||Issuing from a time warp that takes us back to an ultra-squeaky clean past, the new “Footloose” is a slavishly faithful replica of Herbert Ross’s 1984 high school smash. As such it’s no worse than the original. Unfortunately, it’s no better, either.
It does benefit from having a real dancer, Kenny Wormald, in the lead, so that the camera can provide full-body shots of his hoofing rather than shifting between waist-up and waist-down ones in a feeble effort to disguise Kevin Bacon’s lack of terpsichorean finesse in the earlier picture. Wormald plays Ren MacCormack, the big city (in this case Boston rather than Chicago) recently arrived in the small town (here in Georgia rather than Iowa) where public gyrations are prohibited by law, courtesy of the stern preacher (Dennis Quaid replacing John Lithgow) whose son was killed in a late-night car crash he blames on such activities among the youth. And following Gene Kelly’s dictum of “Gotta dance,” MacCormack “lets off steam,” as he puts it, by going into spontaneous routines that are part gymnastics, part hoofing.
He barely enters the town boundaries, moreover, before he catches the eye of the fuzz, the school principal, and the preacher, all of whom see him as a potential troublemaker, and more importantly, that of the preacher’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough), a rebellious girl who’s running around with a loutish race-car driver (Patrick John Flueger) who loathes Ren as quickly as she takes a liking to him. But he also gains a pal in goofy Willard (Miles Teller), whom he will—of course—teach to dance in time for the student-run bash that he’ll be instrumental in arranging, changing the town’s mores in the process.
If all this sounds familiar, it should. Though writer-director Craig Brewer tosses in a few contemporary references—cell phones are mentioned from time to time—for the most part he’s elected to follow Ross’ film as though it were Holy Writ, even sharing screenplay credit with Dean Pitchford, who wrote the 1984 version. The outcome is an almost risibly old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, so clean-cut and wholesome that the MTV imprimatur attached to it seems like a joke. The closest comparison to more recent films would be the Disney “High School Musical” trilogy, which were similarly good-natured, harmless, and utterly derivative.
On those terms, though, “Footloose” is certainly a spiffy package, glossily shot by Amelia Vincent, with the dance sequences—choreographed by Jamal Sims and crisply edited by Billy Fox, and set to a mixture of tunes from the earlier picture and new songs—particularly eye-catching. And Brewer has done his job efficiently, though his work here lacks the imagination of his earlier pictures, “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” As the rebel with a dancing cause, Wormald has the necessary swagger and smile, as well as the moves, and Hough looks fetching in both the tight jeans she wears in her naughty-girl faze or the white party dress she dons when steeping out with Ren at the close. Teller makes a fine doofus of a sidekick, and though Quaid can’t match Lithgow’s fruity delivery, he’s got the smugness down and can turn softie at the close, while Ray McKinnon cuts a likable figure as Ren’s hayseed uncle. Lesser turns by Andie MacDowell as the reverend’s wife and Kim Dickens as Ren’s aunt are fine, too.
But in the end this new “Footloose,” contrary to its title, is weirdly constrained by Brewer’s determination to ape the original so earnestly. It’s not quite the shot-by-shot homage that Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” was, but it comes close. But it hasn’t drawn the same sort of vitriolic criticism that picture did. There’s a difference, it seems, when you try to replay a classic, instead of just a mediocre dance flick.