Twenty-seven years after Kevin Bacon and Kenny Loggins first cut loose and kicked off their Sunday shoes, it's still not easy being the new kid.
Especially in a small town. And especially when that town is governed by rules banning … dancing.
Ren McCormack, a budding gymnast, is the new kid, a transplanted high school senior from Boston who's come to live with his Uncle Wesley and Aunt Lulu in backwater Bomont, Ga., after his mother's death from cancer. Bomont is everything Boston isn't, Ren quickly finds out when he's pulled over for … blasting his car stereo.
The town's strictness stems from a tragic car accident three years before that claimed the lives of five high school seniors who'd just been drinking and dancing at a party. The driver? Bobby Moore, the son of zealous local pastor Shaw Moore.
Convinced that rock 'n' roll and dancing are inextricably linked to drinking, drugs and sex, Rev. Moore spearheads new laws in Bomont aimed at curbing all of the above. No staying out late. No public dancing. No loud music. No drinking. No drugs. "We cannot be missing from our children's lives," Moore exhorts his fellow townspeople. "They are ours to protect now."
On the surface, it seems the laws are working. But below the surface there's still a whole lotta naughtiness—especially coming from the reverend's wild-child daughter, Ariel. Still struggling to process Bobby's death, Ariel is a textbook case of good girl gone bad. She's demure when she's sweet-talkin' her daddy … and an out-of-control hellion the rest of the time. She blithely shreds Bomont's rules and regs as she plays out a steamy relationship with a macho, domineering and older race car driver named Chuck Cranston.
If that sounds like a powder keg, it is. And it's Ren, the accidental disrupter of Bomont's status quo, who lights the fuse.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Everyone seems to mean well here, at least on some level. That doesn't make them all right, of course. But it's a positive thing that no one's working from a standpoint of intentional destructiveness.
Ariel has buried her grief beneath wayward sensuality. But she still longs for her father's approval, to talk honestly with him. And Rev. Moore genuinely wants to protect his town's youth from spiritually destructive elements. He even learns to submerge some of his more controlling instincts when he actually starts listening to Ariel and to his wife, Vi. Eventually we hear him tell his congregation, "If we don't start trusting our children, how will they ever learn to be trustworthy?"
Vi confronts her husband about the fact that he's never really relinquished Bobby, and that clinging to the tragedy has prevented him from meeting Ariel's needs. And in fighting for the right to dance, Ren believes he has an opportunity to affect positive change in a way he wasn't able to do with his mother's illness.
When Ren asks Moore if he can take Ariel to the big dance he's finally finagled, he adds that he'll submit to whatever the pastor decides. And when Moore acquiesces, we're treated to a taste of what a dance can be—with nary a hint of alcohol, drugs or even much suggestiveness.
Elsewhere, Uncle Wesley comes to Ren's defense when the boy is treated harshly by town council members and by Moore. Ariel's BFF, Rusty, is frustrated by her friend's increasingly reckless choices.
After the students' deaths, Rev. Moore says of God's purposes, "He's testing us. Our Lord is testing us." He emphasizes that the world is a place of evil and temptation, and that the job of parents is to protect their children from it. Dancing is repeatedly described as a sin because it's connected with out-of-bounds expressions of sexuality.
As Ren seeks to overturn the town's ban on public dancing, though, he does so by using the Bible as his guide. He believes dancing is a form of self-expression that doesn't have to include sexually immoral elements. And he says he dances to let off steam. When Ren confronts the town council, he cites Psalm 149 and 2 Samuel 6:14. And he concludes by quoting Ecclesiastes 3:4, saying that there is "a time to weep, a time to mourn and a time to dance."
In this sense, the film properly argues that with an issue like dancing, context makes all the difference between whether it's spiritually damaging or uplifting.
Along the way, we hear portions of several sermons from Rev. Moore, including a faith-is-like-a-mustard-seed reference. Wesley and his family say grace before a meal (even as Ren seems indifferent as he glances around the table during the prayer).
Cleavage- and midriff-baring outfits, along with tight jeans and short shorts, are the norm for Ariel. To mark the start of a race, she removes her shirt and waves it around, revealing her bra.
Ariel engages in very sexualized "dirty" dancing and simulates pole dancing. A trip to a dance club in Atlanta has her grinding on Ren. Another woman is seen writhing sensually against a keg.
Chuck pushes things further with Ariel than she wants to go during a make-out session. But Ariel bends to his desire (after he mocks her for being a little girl), unbuttoning her shirt (giving a glimpse of her bra). It's implied they have sex. Later, Ariel tells her father she's not a virgin, and she taunts him, telling him to "pass another law" since the first one didn't protect her virtue. "That sure as h‑‑‑ didn't keep him out of my panties," she spits.
Ariel's nasty breakup with Chuck includes a verbal volley in which she's labeled a "hussy" and a "slut," someone to "screw on weekends." Ren tells his new friend Willard a lurid, fabricated story about having sex with two Russian girls in a bathroom stall. A crude allusion is made to the size of a guy's anatomy. Someone mockingly describes dancing with your mother as a "boner killer."
Rusty kisses Willard. Ariel and Ren eventually kiss (though not as soon as Ariel would like).
We see the fiery car accident that claimed the five students' lives. More vehicular peril (and explosions) come when Chuck challenges Ren to a game of chicken that involves four dilapidated buses navigating a treacherous figure-eight course.
Venting his frustration, Ren dances wildly at the cotton mill where he works—shattering a window and tearing a board off a wall in the process. Ariel takes Ren to a railroad yard at night, where she steps in front of an oncoming train and stays there until Ren leaps across the tracks and drags her out of its way at the last possible second.
Ariel's breakup with Chuck turns vicious when she goes after his truck with a crowbar—and he goes after her face with his fists. The attack leaves her lying on the ground with a huge black eye. Another fistfight knocks Willard out and finds Rusty defending him by taking a beer bottle to a thug's head. A final brawl between Ren and Co. and Chuck's posse involves wince-inducing punches. Someone threatens to clock Ren with a brick.
Moore slaps Ariel across the face for mocking him.
Crude or Profane Language
Twenty-plus s-words. "A‑‑" and "h‑‑‑" are each used about 10 times, while "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n" pop up a handful of times each. We hear four or five exclamations of God's name in vain. "Pr‑‑k" and "douche bag" are said demeaningly.
Chuck goads Ren by saying, "I thought only f-gs were into gymnastics." Ren retorts, "I thought only a‑‑holes used the word f-g."
Drug and Alcohol Content
The opening scene focuses on people's dancing feet as Kenny Loggins' original "Footloose" plays. They stomp among discarded plastic cups, and we soon see that many of the high school revelers are drinking beer from a keg. Ren, Willard, Ariel and Rusty go dancing at an Atlanta dance club where lots of folks are drinking alcohol.
Chuck and his friends smoke marijuana, and Ariel suggests that he's too stoned to drive. A student at school tries to talk an uninterested Ren into smoking some, handing him a joint. A teacher sees what's happening and pursues Ren, who flushes the blunt down a toilet and tries (unsuccessfully) to convince school administrators that he has no interest in it.
Other Negative Elements
Ariel repeatedly lies to her parents. At a stock car race that Chuck wins, she climbs in the window of his car and then hangs out of it while holding the checkered flag during his victory lap. Despite the city's no-dancing ordinance, the proprietor of the local drive-in sponsors dance parties.
Footloose is the latest in a growing list of "classic" '80s films to earn a remake. Many of them are more reimaginings than straight remakes, but not this one. Never mind that most Christians aren't talking much about the evils of public dancing anymore, this film does everything it can to stick to the original script, with whole sections feeling like they were snatched directly from it.
Even though the action is now set in the present, we still see skinny ties, denim jackets and a yellow VW Bug. We even hear Quiet Riot on the stereo. And speaking of music, several songs from the original soundtrack (which topped the charts for nearly three months) are heard, including the title track and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy." Other well-known Footloose songs are given modern country makeovers.
But, really, those are superficial considerations in a film that attempts to grapple with some fairly weighty topics. And in that, Footloose is an odd kettle of flouncing fish. There's a lot to like here … but even more not to like.
The folly of relying upon legalism to change people's hearts is aptly illustrated. Rev. Moore is determined to protect the kids from all worldly influence—symbolized by dancing. Eventually, though, he discovers that rules without relationship are a recipe for rebellion.
That's a good message. But Moore's stereotyped fundamentalism often makes Christianity in general look pretty ridiculous. Even though his extreme convictions soften significantly, there's little about his expression of faith that might seem attractive or appealing. Mostly, Christianity gets represented as a long and loud list of what "thou shalt not" do—not as a real relationship with a loving Savior.
Interestingly, if you give those ideas a half turn, you can see that the film offers evidence that the good reverend's fears are well founded. Dancing doesn't have to be paired with drinking, drugs and rebellion, but it often is onscreen. And as was true in the original, all of those activities are frequently depicted as normal behavior for high school students.
Footloose, then, comes off the dance floor as a manic mess of mixed messages with a semi-suicidal game of girl-vs.-train chicken serving as the syncopation. At the risk of sounding like Rev. Moore ripping through a self-righteous rant, I have to wonder which of these messages will come through the loudest when a new generation of Footloose fans starts tearing up this town.