New ‘Footloose’ makes viewer long for the original

2011-10-14T08:00:00Z 2011-10-14T14:47:20Z New ‘Footloose’ makes viewer long for the originalROB THOMAS | 77 Square | rthomas@madison.com | @robt77 madison.com

You can call the original "Footloose" a lot of things. You can call it corny. You can call it dated. You can call it clunky.

But one thing you cannot call it is cynical. Affection has only grown for the 1984 film about a tough teenager (Kevin Bacon) teaching a repressed small town how to kick off their Sunday shoes. Revisit it today and, along with the '80s fashions and synth-laden soundtrack, it has some pretty good performances and an undeniably good heart.

"Cynical" is exactly the word that comes to mind, though, while watching the "Footloose" remake. It's a naked cash grab that trades in '80s nostalgia without knowing or particularly caring what made the original work.

Director Craig Brewer swipes not just the plot but whole scenes virtually shot for shot from the original, and then tries to cater to today's kids by adding hip-hop and country tunes in between "Holding Out for a Hero" and "Let's Hear It for the Boy." It's a very odd and awkward mix that completely founders.

The central problem is in the casting. Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer (playing the preacher's wild daughter) were actors who could dance. Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough are dancers who can't act. As Ren, the big-city kid who comes to the sleepy town of Bomont, Tennessee, the vanilla Wormald looks like the professional dancer he is during the dance sequences, and makes no impression anywhere else. And Hough, a "Dancing With the Stars" vet, is too squeaky clean to play the troublemaker Ariel.

But the actual actors don't fare much better. Dennis Quaid is horribly miscast as the town preacher, who convinces the city council to ban public dancing after a post-dance car accident kills five teenagers. Quaid submerges his usual likability, giving the preacher a weirdly prissy demeanor as he says things like, "Your behavior has been atrocious, young lady!"

It's not fair, probably, to compare one actor with another in the same role, but watching Quaid just reminds you how great John Lithgow was in the original, making the preacher both a convincing villain and a loving father in the same scene. And Brewer invites comparisons by retaining so much of the original dialogue, including Ren's stirring Bible-quoting speech to the city council, which Wormald completely bobbles.

To be fair, the cast does have a couple of highlights, including Ray McKinnon as Ren's Uncle Wes, and Miles Teller as the clumsy good ol' boy Willard (played by the late Chris Penn in the original). Both play slow-talking Southern guys with quick wits, and add much-needed comic relief to the film.

Why "Footloose" didn't go the "Hairspray" route, and adapt the musical version into a movie, is mystifying — because this remake plays like the high school version of a big Broadway stage show.

Although that's probably unfair to high school theater, which at least can overcome its technical limitations with creativity and enthusiasm. Both of those qualities are in short supply here. There's not a moment watching this that I didn't wish I was watching the original "Footloose" instead.

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