10/17/2011 02:56 pm ET | Updated Dec 17, 2011

ReThink Review: Footloose -- A Yankee Atheist In Rural Texas

I'll start by saying that I never saw the original 1984 Footloose, though I have good memories of the titular pop single by Kenny Loggins and its great music video. So in that sense, my objections to a remake of Footloose were not out of nostalgia, but from Hollywood's poor record of remaking/adapting films and television shows, along with the implicit acknowledgment that Hollywood is apparently out of original ideas.

Footloose is set in the present-day town of Bomont, Texas, which has been traumatized after several high school seniors were killed in a deadly car crash after a party, causing the grief-stricken adults to approve restrictive rules for minors, including a curfew and bans on loud music and public dancing. Bomont's reverend, played by Dennis Quaid, lost his son in the crash and provides the moral and religious justification for the new laws, vowing that he and the parents of Bomont would not fail again in their duty to keep their children safe.

While the idea of a town outlawing dancing always struck me as silly, it seems not only plausible, but entirely likely in the new version's contemporary setting. In the wake of 9/11, the massacre at Columbine High School, sweeping, draconian zero-tolerance rules have been implemented at many American schools, along with metal detectors, barbed wire, armed police and surveillance cameras. In an age where drawing a picture of a gun can get a student suspended, my guess is that today's youth are familiar with the injustices that occur when a community overreacts to a tragedy, as well as the unfortunate outcome when religion is allowed to influence lawmaking.

Into this world steps Ren MacCormack, a bad boy from Boston with a gymnastics background played by professional dancer (and neophyte actor) Kenny Wormald. Having recently lost his mom to leukemia, Ren is taken in by his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and an excellent Ray McKinnon) and unapologetically accepts his role as fish-out-of-water. Despite his Boston accent and skinny ties, Ren soon befriends a goofy country boy named Willard (Miles Teller, in a star-making performance), a football player (Ser'Darius Blain), a good girl (Ziah Colon), and, of course, the rebellious, smoking hot reverend's daughter, Ariel (Dancing with the Stars standout Julianne Hough).

This group helps Ren learn the rules within the bubble of Bomont, as well as where the rules are bent at secret dance parties and hangouts. As Ren is hassled by Bomont's cops, Ariel's dirtbag boyfriend, adults at school, and the reverend, he increasingly turns to dancing as an outlet for his frustrations, and eventually decides to petition the town council to throw out the dancing ban.

And against considerable odds, all of this totally works in this entertaining, surprisingly earnest film. The dancing scenes are exhilarating and excellently choreographed, favoring longer takes that show off the cast's considerable talents instead of the frenetic editing found in most teen dance movies. It's here where the casting of Wormald and Hough proves to be an inspired decision that may elevate this remake above the original. While it's predictably fun to see the stars doing their own dancing, it's their acting that provides one of Footloose's most pleasant surprises, with both leads ably handling the story's more intense emotional scenes.

But one of the most enjoyable aspects of Footloose, for me, is that it doesn't follow the tired Hollywood conceit that uptight, elitist city dwellers need to be humbled and taught to appreciate life through the charms and simple values of salt-of-the-earth rural folks. Instead, it's Ren -- a worldly city boy who is quite clearly an atheist -- who shakes the town from its complacency as he questions the blurring of church and state, stands up to the adults, and inspires his peers to make their voices heard through the political process, delivering an eloquent, impassioned treatise on embracing the joys of youth. It's about time we acknowledge that the cities, with their more progressive/secular/diverse values, have a lot to offer rural America.

At close to two hours, Footloose is about fifteen minutes too long and could've done without a late subplot, an unneeded weepy scene, and an atrocious performance by Andie McDowell as the reverend's wife, which feels like it's from another film. But Footloose succeeds way more than it fails, delivering a fun, endearing, surprisingly sincere film about an outsider who prods a town, and himself, to celebrate and find meaning in life instead of fearing death. And despite the fact that Footloose is a remake, I honestly didn't see that coming.

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