The original 1984 dance flick Footloose was a tasty wedge of Reagan-era cheese, best known for its catchy theme song and Kevin Bacon's angst-fueled, gymnastics-inspired dance sequence. In this energetic remake, writer/director Craig Brewer gives a nod to the modern sensibilities of today's youth -- from hip-hop parking-lot dance sequences to boot-stomping line dancing -- while at the same time paying a carefully crafted homage to the original. Ultimately the story is the same -- a broody dude from the East Coast moves to a small town and fights the Man for his right to get crunk -- but with fresh-faced Kenny Wormald and Dancing With the Stars alumnus Julianne Hough in the mix, Brewer manages to take what could have easily been just another run-of-the-mill remake that falls short of the original and elevates it to a modernized version that holds its own.
Ren McCormack (Wormald) is the new kid in town, fresh off the Greyhound bus. Following the death of his mother from leukemia, he's transplanted from Boston to the small God-fearing Southern town of Bomont, TN, where he strikes up a fast friendship with Willard (Miles Teller) and meets the local preacher's rebellious daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough). When Ren finds out that Bomont's teens have been banned from having dances ever since a car accident killed a group of high-school students, including Ariel's older brother, he rallies the local kids to fight the system.
Footloose's performances are solid for the most part. Kenny Wormald, a charismatic real-life hoofer, steers clear of a Kevin Bacon 2.0 mold and instead showcases an attractive James Dean-eqsue persona that checks all the right boxes for his character, and Teller steals scenes as Ren's country-bumpkin bestie. The weakest link in the cast comes from small-screen dance veteran Julianne Hough, who is less than successful in illuminating the painful trauma that informs her rebellious streak, while veteran actors Dennis Quaid, who plays the grieving reverend, and Andie MacDowell, as his dutiful wife, hold their own against the teenage cast members.
The film doesn't wander too far in search of trendiness, and Brewer manages to pay homage to the movie's predecessor without making his own version feel dated - he includes updated music from the original with some songs left in all their retro glory, as well as the 1984 film's oft-lampooned abandoned-warehouse dance sequence -- but he moves away from the largely fire-and-brimstone rhetoric by trying to establish that the town's ban on dancing comes from a place of concerned overprotectiveness rather than moralistic hectoring. Effectively rousing, Footloose comes in the wake of similar dance-infused films like the Step Up franchise, but what those movies lack in substance, Footloose more than makes up for in genuine toe-tapping fun.