Incredibly the right elements came together to make a respectable crowd-pleaser. Footloose not only inspires as a musical, it moves you affectionately with its drama. Kenny Wormald is more than an exceptional fit as the kid filling in the shoes of Kevin Bacon’s 1984 original, for Wormald is a future star in the making. He is definite in his sharpness and sincerity as the Boston kid who moves to a strict Georgia town where curfew laws are strict and dance is forbidden. Julianne Hough, as the prize in hot pants, is not the greatest actress, but she is hot as blazes when her hips and torso fire up the asphalt. Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell, as the preacher and his wife, are the stifling adult voices of reason that the kids struggle to cut loose from. Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan”) is the writer-director, without him, I’m pretty sure it would have sucked. His energetic treatment gets you in twisting in Southern style dance fever that scores as a winner.
The 1984 original was a Hollywood crew comes to Georgia transplant job. Born native, Brewer has unabashed Southern hoedown in his blood. He makes the whole world of “Footloose” feel as local to us as it does to those who inhabit the story. When the movie rocks out, Brewer is an excellent rhythms and beat manager when it comes to the dance scenes. Sure, the movie is formula. But Brewer has served the remake with the best possible convictions, with principles submerging the formula.
Ren McCormack (Wormald) comes to town without a friend, but finds one on day one with Miles Teller as a very funny sidekick (not so funny was his devastating work in last year’s “Rabbit Hole.” You wouldn’t guess such contrasts). Not natural on his feet but all the more endearing for it, Teller takes over where Chris Penn took off in the original and does something of a blustering Tom Hanks thing with it. Plenty of the other youngsters play dance kick rebels in this flick, but Teller is the one worth mentioning.
This isn’t a story of all rebels and all dancing, so let me not make it sound too sugary. Ariel (Hough) gets it bad from a lughead auto driver without prospects, kind of a secret boyfriend her parents don’t know about. Ren doesn’t sweat over winning over a girl at all, so it’s not him after her, but Ariel after him. Ariel is a phony, but her genuine roots come back to her when she meets Ren, and so, she wants some of that. But Ren isn’t the kind of person you can just try on and toss out at the next spring cleaning. Ren wants Ariel, but he wants to make it real. Reverend Shaw (Quaid) misinterprets, of course, and sees Ren as the bad guy who must be barred from his daughter.
Then there are the roughnecks that just want to fight. So before the confetti hits the dance floor, Ren and Teller have their own slugfest to contend with. Can’t a school dance ever be respectable? Actually, Ren and his chums do their damndest to make it so. They are even willing, out of respect for the town elders, to refrain from alcohol. Very responsible. And Brewer is responsible too. Reverently, Brewer has provided and updated the Kenny Loggins title song for the soundtrack. “Footloose” isn’t great art, but its toe-tapping fun with some earnest life affirmations.
130 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
MUSICAL / TEEN REBEL / MALLRAT MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Fame” (1980); “Footloose” (1984); “Smooth Talk” (1985); “Dirty Dancing” (1987).