Toes are tapping, feet are shuffling and boots are bouncing in the opening to the new Footloose. Kids are dancing and frolicking, maybe even having a few beers to the title song of a 1984 movie, a tune by Kenny Loggins.
Then tragedy strikes. And Bomont becomes the town that banned organized dances. The preacher preaches this from his pulpit, the town council goes along and the cops enforce it.
But time passes, and it's up to the dance-crazy new kid, Ren, to tame the wild-child preacher's daughter, Ariel, and to get Bomont back on its dancing feet.
If there is a movie more familiar to multiple generations than Footloose, chances are it has hills covered in edelweiss or Atlanta burning down. You tamper with a formula and a story this beloved, you do it at your own peril. Even if the original movie wasn't anybody's idea of high art.
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But Craig Brewer, the director of Hustle and Flow, resets that Kevin Bacon/Lori Singer/John Lithgow Midwestern hit in the rural South. He swaps a game of tractor chicken with a figure-eight school bus crash-o-rama and ingeniously adds singing 10-year-olds to the show-stopper Let's Hear It for the Boy. He gave the film a little Southern hip-hop, and he brought in real Southerners Dennis Quaid (from Texas), Andie MacDowell (South Carolina) and Ray McKinnon (Georgia) to further Southernize it. Suddenly, it makes a lot more sense.
Brewer has made a new Footloose that is lighter on its feet and easier to swallow as a tale of teen rebellion against parents determined to overprotect their children. In most regards — we still miss Kevin Bacon — this is a "new and improved" Footloose, funnier, sunnier and funkier.
Dancer-turned-actor Kenny Wormald (You Got Served) is the Boston kid who likes his music too loud for Bomont. He has come to live with his Uncle Wes after burying his mom. And drawling Wes (McKinnon of Dolphin Tale, superb in this part) is just the guy to show the kid the rules. Wes is a father figure who remembers his own heck-raising youth.
Julianne Hough (formerly one of the pros on Dancing With the Stars) plays Ariel as an oversexed demon in cowboy boots — teasing the boys, especially her rich redneck boyfriend. Of course she's going to flirt with the new kid. Just as soon as she sees how much her preacher dad (Quaid) disapproves.
And Miles Teller is very funny as Willard, the football-playing classmate who takes Ren under his wing, shows him around and teaches him about the South.
It's a corny story and just as dated as it was when it first came out. Some scenes, such as the bus race, work on their own but feel shoehorned in. The Ariel's-jealous-boyfriend element fails to ignite. However, the dance scenes are more fun, and Hough gives it a sexy, sassy edge — lots of hair flipping on the dance floor, tight skirts, tighter jeans.
"Put a quarter in her back pocket," one guy suggests. "You could tell if it was heads or tails."
If the opening dancing to the title tune doesn't get you, the kids taking their shot at making country line-dancing cool will. And if it doesn't, you probably never got over that crush on Bacon in junior high.