OK, let's lay it on the table: The original Footloose was no masterpiece. It was fun, energetic cheese buoyed by a monster soundtrack of hits.
There was really no reason to remake it, but if you accept the fact that remakes are inevitable in today's Hollywood, then the new Footloose shows at least how to avoid travesty.
The movie -- which was once envisioned (shudder!) as a High School Musical-style production with Zac Efron -- somehow fell into the hands of someone who knows music intimately, Craig Brewer, the Memphis-based director of Hustle & Flow. He also clearly knows the original well enough to have hardly changed anything of substance.
It even boasts much of the original music, recorded by current artists, sometimes re-arranged (there's a plaintive singer-songwriter version of Holding Out for a Hero by a 15-year-old country singer named Ella Mae Brown that will be downloaded like crazy) sometimes not (Blake Shelton's mildly countrified but otherwise karaoke-like replication of Kenny Loggins' title theme).
Smaller hair, iPods, a country line-dance here, a bit of urban move-busting there, a chicken game with schoolbuses instead of tractors, a didactic opening act that spells out why this small town has banned dancing at risk of hellfire, and that's pretty much it as far as the tinkering goes.
The cast of relative unknowns (with the exception of Dennis Quaid, who brings a tad less crazy to the role of the dance-banning Rev. Moore than John Lithgow did) take on their roles with the enthusiasm of understudies all getting their big breaks, ensuring this Footloose at least hits the same emotional notes as its predecessor (and judging from the reaction at a relatively young screening audience, those notes still hit home).
Ren McCormack (professional dancer Kenny Wormald) hits our podunk Southern town following the death of his mother, and is under the care of his free-spirited mechanic uncle (Ray McKinnon). Once there, he gets mixed signals from the hot bad girl Ariel (Julianne Hough) and makes some friends, including the movie's scene stealer Willard (Rabbit Hole's Miles Teller), who plays his good-ol'-boy best friend role one notch short of a teenage Larry The Cable Guy.
The rest you all know. The bad girl turns out to be the minister's daughter. The minister hates dancing since his son was killed in a car accident after a high school dance. Ren loves to dance. He also loves to play Quiet Riot really loud (also apparently frowned on in municipal bylaws).
The Bible-off between Ren and Rev. Moore still plays well (Dance, King David, dance!), and the big dance reprises the original film's moment of violence and redemption.
The changes of tone are so slight (Hough's Ariel is more of a frightened naïf in her sex scene than Lori Singer's I'm-having-sex-because-I'm-bored rebellion in the original), they're hardly noticeable unless you've seen the original Footloose lately.
So the question remains, why? I don't know. Maybe it's so parents can show their kids a movie we liked without having to answer for the '80s hair.
(This film is rated PG)