There is no actual law that prohibits a teen dance movie from being really good. Case in point: “Footloose,” a movie so easy to like it runs the risk of being underrated by snooty film lovers.
It’s a popcorn hit packed with immediate pleasures — music, color, action, movement, melodrama, beautiful young women and handsome young men — a brash, bigger-than-life entertainment that demands to be seen on a theater screen, sitting up close to the speakers. It’s an eruption of joyous, jitterbugging energy and a polished piece of filmmaking.
The film follows Boston-bred high schooler Ren, who transfers to small-town Georgia after his mother’s death leaves him in the care of his uncle. The culture shock is multiplied when he learns that unsupervised dancing is illegal in the community. Following a traffic accident that killed his son and several other teens following a party, the town preacher pushed the measure through the town council, and has eloquently defended it from repeal for several years.
The adversaries are a study in contrasts. Ren (former Justin Timberlake backup dancer Kenny Wormald) is vibrant energy, moving with spontaneous grace. Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid) is a sympathetic character, too, but one whose protective gentility masks a deathlike stillness. Torn between them is the clergyman’s rebellious daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough, a two-time “Dancing With the Stars” winner turned actress), eager to shatter her cocoon and escape.
Even the film’s overt villain, Ariel’s roughneck boyfriend, has reasons for his brutish behavior. For a youth movie, “Footloose” has a pretty mature grasp of human nature.
Yes, this remake is a close copy of the beloved 1984 original, just as that one was a throwback to 1950s shake, rattle and rockers. The story is as fresh as ever, though.
Director/co-writer Craig Brewer — who grew up in Memphis and made the superb Southland music dramas “Hustle and Flow” and “Black Snake Moan” — doesn’t pretend he’s inventing any of the elements he references. He’s playing retro material in a way that makes it worthwhile. Adding new shadings and depth to stock characters and familiar situations, “Footloose” dances daringly close to, then quickly away from, self-parody.
Wormald, like the young Tom Cruise, is a bit clenched in dialogue scenes. He’s more comfortable letting his moves do the talking. Hough has more expressive range; her look can flash from teenage coquetry to cold calculation in an instant. Best of all is the irresistible Miles Teller as Ren’s new best friend Willard, whose evolution from a wallflower to a lord of the dance is a jolt of effervescent delight.
The film is peppered with references to the original. Yet this is one remake that stands on its own.
Nobody would mistake this revival for an important movie. But sometimes fun beats significance.