Footloose Review: Brutal. Absolutely Brutal.
It’s not terribly difficult to see why there’s some residual affection for the original Footloose, released in 1984. It’s a silly, sweet-natured film that, despite its inherent ridiculousness, had enough goofy charm and heartfelt performance that it still makes people chuckle and grin a little bit when it inevitably comes on TNT or USA or any other cable outlet. None of that can be said of the 2011 remake, which is simply and unequivocally a brutally terrible film.
I won’t bore you with an in-depth examination of the plot, because you’ve either seen the original (congratulations), or you’ve seen the trailers (my condolences). It’s about young Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), who moves from Boston to the shithole burg of Southern Who-Gives-A-Fuck. Once he gets to Fuck-It-I-Don’t-Care, Tennessee, he finds a town caught in the throes of a set of ridiculous laws, including no loud music, no dancing, and Jesus Christ, I just don’t give a shit. The town’s laws, brought about by a grief-ridden preacher (played by Dennis Quaid, who either lost a bet or his will to live, or both), were a reactionary response to a drunken accident three years prior. The preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), is a rebellious young girl who sneaks out routinely so that she can date a scumbag and occasionally widen her eyes and whine. Ren makes friends with some locals, including hickabilly goober Willard (Miles Teller) and Standard Black Guy #254 (Ser’Darius Blain), catches the vacant eye of Ariel, gets in trouble with the local authority figures, and eventually, because he wants to do something important with his life, brings dancing back to Burn-This-Fucking-Craphole-To-The-Ground, TN.
There are so many amazing ways that Footloose sucked. I could probably write a dissertation on it, with references and footnotes and quantitative and qualitative evidence to back it up. It’s a roaring hurricane of terribleness, a garish nightmare of fucking ineptitude. I will here list a few - not positives, but things that didn’t make me want to tear the arms off of my chair and begin beating the people around me into unconsciousness:
1. Kenny Wormald really is from Boston, so at least his accent was authentic.
2. He and Hough are legitimately excellent dancers.
3. Miles Teller was actually rather amusing as the hickabilly goober, and his “training montage” is actually quite funny, set to a couple of ten year-old girls doing a karaoke rendition of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” It works better than you’d think.
4. The dancing is very impressive, even if the scenes are spastically edited, too infrequent and too short.
5. Hit me in the head with a shovel to spare me from having to finish this, I’m begging you.
No? No takers? Fuck all of you.
And now, the bad: EVERYTHING FUCKING ELSE. Wormald is awkward and stilted as Ren, mostly staring into the middle distance as if waiting for the ability to emote to smash into his head like a rifle shot. The bullet never comes. Julianne Hough is even worse as the completely unlikable Ariel. She has two modes: dead inside or shrill squawking. She delivers every single line with a dull lifelessness in her eyes, as if you could snap your fingers next to her face and hear the echoes in her skull. I’m not even positive she was breathing through most of it, despite her petulantly parted lips. Her acting techniques consists of blinking occasionally amd opening her mouth wider. Dennis Quaid is unforgivable in this, and Andie MacDowell as his dutiful wife should surrender herself to a life of solitary shame.
Even more disconcerting is that Footloose is an almost completely joyless film. It tries too hard to be a Very Serious Picture, which is fucking insane because it’s a movie about A TOWN WHERE DANCING IS BANNED. This isn’t Schindler’s List, you incompetent assholes. Instead of shooting for mostly tongue in cheek, it shoots for more seriousness than it has any right to, and considering the actors tasked with carrying that ten-ton sack of shit on their shoulders, it’s a fool’s endeavor. Hough and Wormald clomp their way through their scenes, blinking and gasping and occasionally speaking louder to indicate that they’re feeling something other than their souls melting and running down their spines.
Unsurprisingly, much of the film and its dialogue is lifted directly from the 1984 film, yet they somehow succeeded in taking out all of the charm and quaintness. It makes some casual substitutions in a few of the iconic scenes — they race souped up school buses instead of tractors, Ren’s from Boston instead of Chicago, Ariel’s mentally defective instead of just a little rowdy — but those aren’t reflective of any sort of creativity. You don’t just change vehicle types or locations or remove a character’s brain matter and call it an update. Any shithead with an IQ over seven and a Madlibs book could do that. This is simply a tired, brain-dead exercise in cinematic laziness. It’s actually rather remarkable in its utter incompetence. The prime example is Ren’s Warehouse Dance Of Rage Or At Least A Bit Of Frustration. The original, iconic-yet-hilarious scene featured Kevin Bacon leaping around a warehouse to work out his frustrations:
Here, it’s even more awkward and idiotic, filled with Wormald gasping and grunting because he’s, like, tormented about stuff. In actuality, it seemed like he was trying to pass a kidney stone by slamming into walls and doing leg kicks.
Craig Brewer (Hustle And Flow, Black Snake Moan) directed and wrote the screenplay, and was quoted as saying, “I can promise Footloose fans that I will be true to the spirit of the original film. But I still gotta put my own Southern grit into it and kick it into 2011.” I read that quote and I wanted to bury him up to his neck in lampreys that were lathered in rubbing alcohol. There’s no “Southern grit” to the film, other than broad stereotyping and a song by (God help me) The Zac Brown Band, and the only thing true to the original is a couple of songs that were borrowed and covered by poor imitations. He created a movie that, when I wasn’t bored to the point of near-hallucination, I was literally embarrassed to be watching. And if you know anything about some of my favorite movies, that statement should be the most damning of all. It somehow took a ridiculous, goofy premise and sucked all of the fun and enjoyment out of it.
The main problem with Footloose isn’t that it’s a shitty remake (though it is); the main problem is that it’s simply an unbearably awful movie. It’s a staggeringly inept shitshow of a film that bears just enough resemblance to the original to be insulting, but also successfully finds new ways to suck. Remakes are often near-misses, films that might have brought something new to the original’s idea but for some unfortunate stumbles. Footloose doesn’t stumble — it careens off of a cliff with its dick out, screaming with a vulgar incompetence, shitting its pants on the way down. It’s an interminable 115 minutes filled with clichés, two leads who couldn’t act their way out of a wet sack if you gave them a knife and written directions, uninspired direction, and a determination to make its audience lose its faith in humanity.