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Shiny Footloose remake steps into familiar shoes

Dance flick puts best foot forward

Footloose

Opens Friday at Dunbar, Oakridge, Scotiabank

I cant dance. When dating, I made my boyfriends dance with my funkier friends, a fatal decision on at least one occasion. When I was a teenager, a cute dancing partner, after marveling at my lack of lower mobility, actually gripped my legs and tried to move them around the dance floor, as though I had just come out of a coma.

Im not quite as bad as Elaine in Seinfeld; more like Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles (and she wore a back brace, if you remember).

Thats why 1984s Footloose resonated for me. From the moment all those sneaker, pump and boot-clad feet started dancing in the opening credits, it wasnt about how well one could dance, but his God-given right to.

Not so with the shiny new Footloose, directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) and starring pro dancers Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. Hough won Dancing with the Stars twice; Wormald was a fixture on MTVs Dancelife, as well as the big screens Centre Stage and Turn it Up.

Now that weve been groomed to expect flawless gyration on the dance floorthanks to music videos, films like the Step Up franchise and TVs terrifying reality show Dance Momsit makes sense that filmmakers would forsake acting chops for dance moves. These days average acting is OK, but sloppy dancing is not to be tolerated.

We all know the story. Big-city boy Ren MacCormack (Wormald) moves to a small town where dancing, among other teenage pursuits, has been banned. The town is still hurting from the deaths of five high school seniors three years previous: dancing, alcohol and loud music were named as co-conspirators. Still stinging is the church preacher (Dennis Quaid) and his daughter Ariel (Hough) who lost a family member in the accident. Ariel is turning into a wild child before Daddys eyes, though he turns a blind eye.

Ren notices, however. While wrestling with feelings for Ariel, Ren makes it his mission to overturn the city ordinance on dancing, with the help of endearing podunk Willard (Miles Teller) and a few passages pulled from the Bible.

Brewers adaptation is slavishly similar to the original Footloose, a decision guaranteed to rustle in a whole new generation of viewers without alienating fans of the original version. So Ren wears a tie on the first day of school, drives a beat-up yellow Volkswagen and listens to Quiet Riot. Some of the songs get an update, but theyre still there. And Willard learns to dance to Lets Hear It For The Boy in the same sequence Chris Penn did years ago.

The best homage to the original is the films angry dance scene in the abandoned warehouse. While Kevin Bacon could do a mean flip from a car, he was no Patrick SwayzeWormald does it without a dance double. Its still an iconic scene, a powerful explosion of teen angst and frustration. (Wed probably all be a lot healthier mentally if we could just bust an angry move during the office workday.)

Then theres Hough. I was handed a fancy FN Footloose magazine as I walked into the screening, in which Hough says, This is a role that has more depth. Its more like the original times 10. Uh, no. The same scenes and some line-for-line dialogue is here. But gone is Lori Singers gangly appeal, replaced by Houghs pop-up-book cleavage in outfits that a preacher wouldnt fail to notice.

The skankification of Ariel isnt Houghs fault, but her overwrought delivery is. Too many people deify the original movie, which was good popcorn fare but far from a classic, but we miss the recklessness that Singer brought to her role. Hough is lithe everywhere else but in her performance: her stiffness makes the romance between Ariel and Ren a little hard to buy into.

Thankfully, Brewer keeps the energy high with two key dance sequences (the drive-in and a country music bar) and lots of movement that carries the viewer away from the films shortcomings. Its an upbeat morality tale for the next generation, a fair nostalgia trip for fans of the original, and those of us who wish we could dance.

jcrawfordfilm@gmail.com