17 October 2011

OBEYING EVERY RULE

A remake, in 2011, of a 1984 movie with a central conflict that was embarrassingly old-fashioned by the end of the 1950s has its work cut out for it in the staying fresh and saying something for the kids out there department, and the brand-new Footloose deals with this tricky issue by, um, well... heck, I guess it completely fails!

And frankly, that is what you get and that is what you deserve for remaking a movie that has remained in the hearts and minds of film fans for over a quarter of a century almost solely because it has one of the earwormiest title songs ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting countryside. You are probably humming it right now, since I have brought it up. If not, I think you need to cut loose. Footloose. Kick off your Sunday shoes (now if you're not humming it, you're probably dead).

Anyway, since Footloose '84 was noteworthy primarily for its soundtrack, which spawned a truly frightening number of huge hits, it is merely sensible that Footloose '11 would see fit to use each and every single one of them in a brand new cover version, and since this is 2011 and music is dead, that basically means that each and every single one of them is precisely identical to the original recordings except with lots of autotune sucking all of the new singers' voices. The one exception is 15-year-old Ella Mae Bowen's version of Bonnie Tyler's quinetessentially '80s power ballad "Holding Out for a Hero", which is a slow and drowsy country version of the piece that is completely unrecognisable save for the lyrics - I will leave it to the reader to determine whether this makes it the best or worst piece on the new soundtrack, though I will admit to feeling my soul writhe and die when it started playing.

The parts of the movie that are not calamitously redundant pop music covers tell the story of one brave kid's fight against a dance ban in the quiet conservative town of Bomont, GA. I will resist the urge to point out that parents' fear of the demon rock 'n roll is the stuff of teensploitation from 1954 & not so much from today, because the same exact charge could be and very often was made of the original movie. I will not, however, resist the urge to point out that in giving our hero, Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), the exact same New Wave haircut and New Wave skinny tie as his 1984 self has a whole lot less "oomph" to it, given that in 1984, being New Wave was an actual stance one took that had real ramifications for how one existed in society, whereas in 2011, it means that you're an irritating hipster trying to appropriate the social moment of a period almost a full decade before your birth.

So, you know the drill, right? Ren moves in from Boston after his mother died (one of the single biggest changes to the story - they came together in the original, for economic reasons) meets the adrenaline junkie Ariel Moore (Julianne Hough), daughter of the town's Presbyterian minster, Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), the man who is more or less the spine of Bomont's dance ban in the first place - it was the car crash following a boozy dance that killed several teens, including his son Bobby three years earlier, that lead the city leaders to pass a flurry of "don't let our kids have fun!" laws in the first place. Ren's urban manner strikes the Bomontans as smug, rebellious dickery, and he quickly becomes persona non grata among the adults, while rallying the kids to challenge the ban through safe & sane legal means. He's such a not-troublemaker, in fact, that he won't even kiss the emotionally desperate Ariel until he's certain that she isn't just trying to screw him to piss off her daddy.

There's virtually nothing about Footloose that is appallingly bad, and there is sweet fuck-all that is any good, although there are a few dances near the end - just about the only part of this entire dance movie in which dancing occurs - that are agreeably grand in their ambition and the talent of those dancing that it sends you out of the theater on a high, which is maybe the only thing an ending can ever be expected to do. It's hideously empty, though, relying almost exclusively on our knowledge of the original to do its emotional work; as remakes go, not many of them function as homages to such an extent as this does, with every other scene, practically, including some in-joke or exactly repeated shot. The filmmakers, led by writer-director Craig Brewer, do not give the material any room to find its own identity, and that makes for a movie that almost can't help but sap the viewer's will to live: it is an utter shell of a thing without the original to prop it up, and yet with the original held in contrast, the new film cannot help but seem like a husk. Absolutely nothing is here to match the far-better-than-necessary performance John Lithgow gave in the role currently occupied by Quaid, and even Kevin Bacon's starmaking turn is miles better than any of the generic young people playing generic kids. Hough, I think, gets special notice for being forced and alien; you can virtually hear the director offscreen, whispering urgently that she needs to squint up her eyes, and let her voice catch, and none of it feels remotely human. Worse still, the wannabe actress, a professional dance who rocketed to fame on Dancing with the Stars, is given virtually no chance to do the one thing we know she can do. Because, y'know, dancing ban. Which makes it really hard to have a proper dance movie.

It's all so much thudding mediocrity, though the one thing that cuts me is that Craig Brewer somehow got himself tangled up in all this. I haven't terribly much liked his previous features, Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, but they've both got a kind of humidity about them, a disreputable, sweaty sexual undercurrent that gives them a distinct, and shared, personality. Other than its arbitrary relocation to the South, Footloose has absolutely none of that, and its attempts at a PG-13 variant of that smokiness are outlandishly misguided: none of the carefully-groomed pretty young folk in the cast have the sexual anima of a sackful of ducklings. Not that it would have helped Footloose, but it would have been a something. Instead, we get the most immaterial remake of 2011, and boy, ain't that saying something.

4/10

3 comments:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Here's my question, Tim: can you name some remakes that either surpass the originals or at least good justifications for existing (not counting, of course, things like True Grit that are based on books even though the film versions are better-known)? I'm drawing a blank, but I am not the cinephile that you are.

jjjonatron said...

Like you said, I'm surprised or saddened by Craig Brewer's involvement in this movie. I actually loved Black Snake Moan, so it hurts me more than it does you. Either way, your verdict isn't promising, but the idea of Brewer helming a Footloose remake never struck me as a particularly good-sounding one.

Andrew Testerman said...

@GeoX - John Carpenter's The Thing gets quite a bit of love, so much so that the original 1951 version often gets glossed over in favor of it. That said, I heard their approaches to horror were pretty apples to oranges, so perhaps that doesn't count.

Of course, while we're talking about remakes without justification for existing...