After redefining rags to riches (“Hustle and Flow”) and deconstructing Southern Gothic (“Black Snake Moan”), director Craig Brewer is returning to theaters with a mainstream Hollywood remake, an unlikely twist in a filmography that seemed fixated on the untold intricacies of the American south.
His film is “Footloose,” and the plot of this latest version doesn’t stray from the original. After losing his mother to cancer, Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) leaves his native Boston to live with his aunt and uncle in small-town Georgia. As he struggles to fit in to his new surroundings, he clashes with the town’s reverend (Dennis Quaid) who, along with the town’s city council, has instilled a number of strict rules upon the teenage population—most notably the outlawing of any and all dancing.
Unable to see the justification behind the rules, Ren defies the reverend by organizing a school dance in addition to wooing his daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough). Conflict and controversy follow suit.
Much like the original “Footloose,” the newest incarnation has much to say in the way of culture clashes and generational misunderstandings. In both films, the stuffy preacher is revealed to be a cautious, overly concerned father; the slick urbanite teaches his bucolic chums the ways of the world while they show him how to slow down a bit; and in the end, all is set right.
Brewer, who has attested to having a strong affinity for the film, does nothing to reinvent the wheel with his version. But that’s not his intention. Entire scenes from the 1984 original are recycled here, each one serving the same thematic, aesthetic and narrative purpose as its predecessor. Before long, his film begins to feel like a cinematic echo, memories reverberating on a movie screen.
So much of pop culture these days centers on reference. Shows like “I Love the ’80s” and “I Love the ’90s” helped disseminate nostalgia in the early 21st century. More than ever, people are quick to quote lines from their favorite movies, dress up as their favorite video game characters or pen personal fan fictions of their favorite novels.
This is exactly why remakes have proved so popular—and profitable—in mainstream American cinema. For years, entire conversations have begun with “Hey, remember that one scene from that one movie? Wasn’t that awesome?” What Brewer has done with his version of “Footloose” is taken that very mode of communication and transported it to the realm of filmmaking.
That’s the reason his film is a far cry better than most remakes. Where many tend to be complacent regurgitations of popular brands, “Footloose” is bolstered by Brewer’s admiration of the film’s iconography. He even starts the film with the eponymous Kenny Loggins’ tune that’s synonymous with the story itself. From the get go, Brewer is making it clear that his film is a fan’s interpretation.
But in the end, is this enough justification for an admittedly heinous trend in current cinema? While Brewer’s film may not be outwardly terrible, it’s still a remake of “Footloose,” a film that has remained recognizable mostly because of its exaggerated emotionalism and ’80s cliches. Though it may contain admirable performances and a strong sense of place, there’s not enough to save this film from feeling like a glorified cover song.