It’s odd that we live in a world that needs two Footlooses. (Footlai?) Still, love it or loathe it, Footloose 2.0 arrives in theaters today, inviting a whole new generation of movie-goers to kick off their Sunday shoes.
While the 1984 original is hardly a perfect film, New-Footloose has some hefty shoes to fill. The older, Kevin Bacon-starring version has managed to angry dance its way into a pantheon of immortal ’80s movies and our hearts. So, with that in mind we thought we’d compare the two to see which film is Foot-looser, and which is Foot-loser. (Read Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review here.)
Kenny vs. Kevin: New Footloose is about as close to a shot-for-shot remake as you can get, so it’s easy to see where the similarities and differences lie. As the fish-out-of-water Ren McCormack, both actors brought the city boy in the country routine with ease, but Kenny Wormald’s Boston-accented new kid seemed more comfortably at odds with his surroundings. That might be due to director Craig Brewer’s decision to definitively set the story in the South (specifically, Georgia) as opposed to the ambiguous “long time ago in a Midwest town far far away” stage of Footloose Prime. In Brewer’s world, McCormack has just lost his mother to a battle with cancer, a mostly unspoken caveat that helps explain the motivation behind his Dance Against the Machine petitions.
Then again, Footloose: The Beginning helped launch a young Kevin Bacon into the public eye, and I highly doubt that 20 years from now we’ll be playing “The Six Degrees of Kenny Wormald.” (Then again, you never know.) Bacon has a healthy resume, so we’ll give this one to the new kid.
A tale of two pretties: By far, Ariel was my least favorite character of the original film. No matter how many times I watch the movie, I find myself secretly hoping that Kevin Bacon will just take one of his other classmates to the dance. In 1984, Lori Singer showed us her Ariel was a “bad girl” by traversing between two moving vehicles. (Sidenote: I’ve looked at that scene every which way, and it still makes no logical sense how she suddenly lands safely in the other car.) By contrast, Julianne Hough reveals her daddy issues by hooking up with a local race car driver and playing chicken with a locomotive. (File under: Much more practical, but still do not try this at home.)
In either case, the romance between the male and female protagonists seems as forced as it is inevitable, but in the end, Hough takes the prize. Her line reading could use a little work, but she’s got the moves, eyes you could swim in, and an ethereal glow worthy of the Disney character that shares the name of her alter-ego. [Ed. note: Tell us how you really feel, Ben.] Plus, like her co-star Wormald, she actually looks like she could be in high school.
Leggo my Lithgow: Dennis Quaid does a fine job as the local preacher desperate to keep his family and community safe. He’s also aided by the superb casting choice of Andie MacDowell as his wife. But let’s face it, at the end of the day, there’s just no beating John Lithgow in the original.
The music men: It would be pop culture sacrilege to even question the supremacy of the original soundtrack. Luckily, Footloose 2: Electric Boogaloo doesn’t put us in that awkward position. Modern and predominately country-fied versions of the original songs are peppered throughout the movie like Easter eggs. A slower version of “Holding Out For A Hero” by Ella Mae Bowen is especially good and the Willard-learns-to-dance montage is set to the backdrop of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” Only this time, the song’s sung by a chorus of small girls with the help of their pink Barbie stereo.
As for the title track, there’s a reason — besides how charming he was on The Voice — that Blake Shelton is one of today’s most successful artists. The guy has skills and his take on “Footloose” is a toe-thumping good time. Even though the end of Footloose Jr. is as easy to predict as Titanic, when Kenny screams, “I thought this was a party” in his black bow tie and red blazer — yes, same outfit — you can’t help but wish you had an empty mill waiting back home to cut loose in.
Tractor Beam: Since our hero has to win his love over from the clutches of a dastardly man, there has to be some masculine test of bravado between the two. Footloose Sr., gave us a game of tractor chicken that on second viewing is one of the most anti-climatic scenes ever created, rendered all the more campy by the intense background music. It’s 2011. Our young adults play for keeps now, which is why it makes perfect sense that Ren would agree to partake in a figure-8 bus race against a guy he doesn’t know to prove himself for the girl he doesn’t like yet. Perfect sense.
As a scene, it’s considerably more fun to watch. It’s a redneck chariot race with four school buses in various states of demo-derby decay and when they inevitably collide, things light on fire. Best scene of the two movies combined.
Where’s an empty warehouse when you need one?: Worst scene of the two movies combined? The angry dance of Footloose Returns. I get that a movie about dancing, by definition, has to include a scene where the protagonist vents his frustrations through jumping, twirling and taking off his grey sweatshirt. I get that. Still, the original angry dance is ridiculous — one of the reasons we love it so much — and the new angry dance’s reason for existence is simply that there was one in the first movie.
The two scenes are remarkably similar. A frustrated Ren drives his yellow beetle — yes, same car — to an empty warehouse, has a drink, cranks the tunes and wears himself out through a combination of gymnastics and what he obviously learned from night classes with The LXD. Sure, the new version has more Hustle and less Flow but it never answers the question of why it exists in the first place.
And the winner is?: It literally pains me to write this, but I have to go with the new school. It cleverly shows us the local government process that sets up the illegal-to-dance premise, carefully toeing the line between believability and sheer plot device. You can relate to, and sympathize with, both the adult and teenage characters in a way that the original never quite achieves. The new version gives its supporting players time to shine — which they do — and with Brewer at the helm, the I-just-want-to-dance story gets a slight coming-of-age boost. Kevin Bacon’s movie will always be THE Footloose, but if I had to watch one of them right now, I would choose Wormald, Hough, et al.
What do you think PopWatchers? Are you planning on seeing Footloose this weekend? Is it even fathomable that the new version be better than the classic?