Craig Brewer builds a better Footloose, location be damned 

Let's Hear It for the Boy

Let's Hear It for the Boy

At its best, the dance flick is a cinematic cousin to the musical, with group dancing taking the place of group singing while advancing the plot or developing the characters (we hope). Sometimes, as in West Side Story or Dirty Dancing, we get both. Lately, though, films of this type have looked more like an episode of America's Best Dance Crew, with mind-numbing dialogue clumsily forced in among dance-offs.

On a scale with Step Up 2: The Streets at the bottom and Singin' in the Rain somewhere around Alpha Centauri, Craig Brewer's Footloose remake hovers somewhere in the middle: a film that doesn't take itself too seriously, but honors the fact that an audience has paid good money to see it. The dancing within is dynamically staged and shot, and by this stumble-prone reviewer's scorecard, quite impressive. But that's the case even with dance movies that are flat-footed in every other way. The success here is that, once those loose feet return to their Sunday shoes, the characters deliver better lines with more conviction than the genre demands.

Fans of Herbert Ross' 1984 original will get the chance to nitpick, if they choose, but on the main points this song's the same. In both, the story is set in a small town called Bomont, although director/co-writer Brewer has placed the town in Georgia, as opposed to the unidentified Midwest locale of the original and the Tennessee locale of the director's wishes. (A Memphis native and member of the Nashville Film Festival Advisory Board, Brewer had hoped to shoot and set the film here in Tennessee, but as with Memphis Beat and The Blind Side before it, the production was lured to Georgia where film incentives are more kind. But I digress.)

Bomont is a peculiar Southern town, where rock music, dancing and late nights have been outlawed (close enough to reality) but race relations are exceedingly pleasant (movie magic, in my experience). The ban on boogieing has come as a reaction to a tragic accident involving several of the town's high school students. Not surprisingly, the law is disobeyed in secret, until Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) comes to town and decides to get political.

Wormald's step into Kevin Bacon's dancing shoes leaves one with a few nagging questions: Is it even fair to ask someone to out-Kevin Bacon Kevin Bacon? Is Wormald now a valid option when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Regardless, he's light on his feet (yes, he gets his own Angry Dance) and convincing enough as the slick-Yankee new guy. Julianne Hough plays Ariel, a rebellious preacher's daughter whose hips don't lie, and exceeds reasonably low expectations in the process. Of the whole cast, though, the scene-stealer is Miles Teller, who made a brilliant debut alongside Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. In the role that boosted the late Christopher Penn to stardom, he's lovable as the hero's country-kid sidekick.

Although Brewer has dirtied the dancing a little bit, earning Footloose a PG-13 rating instead of the original's PG, it's family-friendly compared to his previous work, Black Snake Moan and Hustle & Flow. Those earlier films were abrasively original. But the common theme is the same: the power of music to change lives, even those that seem beyond redemption. Footloose shows Brewer, like any good Memphis or Nashville cat, knows how to make a cover his own.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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