★ / ★★★★
Ren (Kevin Bacon) and his mother move to a small town to start their life anew. It is far from a promising reboot, however, when Ren finds out that rock n’ roll and dancing are banned because of a car wreck that killed high school kids five years ago. The main proponent of this ban is Reverend Moore (John Lithgow), whose only son has died in the crash. He believes that by shutting out “devil music,” it will be unable to “confuse people’s minds and bodies.” With the help of his friends and classmates, Ren hopes to overturn the ordinance in a small but respected town meeting.
It is easy and reasonable to laugh at the dopiness of the premise of “Footloose,” but I chose to buy into it right away, no questions asked, to be able to assess what it is it hopes to aim toward. It wishes to be an entertaining, crowd-pleasing picture that feature songs we can tap our toes to and well-choreographed dance scenes, but even on that level it fails to deliver.
While the songs selected are catchy, they do little to serve coherence to the plot involving the young people’s struggle to get their parents to listen, put their differences aside, and consider the practical over the emotional. While quite upbeat and fun to listen to, the title song by Kenny Loggins often pops up during the most inappropriate moments when a question requires our attention so that we can get that much more into examining the perceived moral decay of the town. Also, it is unfortunate that many of the songs are cut short in order to make room for badly written dialogue. I know it is supposed to be ironic that the high school students are the ones with an open mind while the adults with life experiences have a narrow point of view, but must the teens provide the answers to the questions they have just asked? I suppose I can take comfort that John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” is almost played all the way.
Ren’s romantic interest, Ariel (Lori Singer), who happens to be the reverend’s daughter, is very unlikable, a harpy, toward the beginning. Instead of being nice to the new kid in town, she asserts her place in the high school social strata by acting cold toward him. So when she later asks Ren, “Why don’t you like me?” I wished to interrupt the scene and, to put it lightly, tell her why she has to ask a stupid question. The screenplay by Dean Pitchford does not give the character a proper transition from a queen B to a gal who we want to get to know and be friends with. If the writer feels lazy at the time and does not feel like giving the main girl a deserved arc, why not simply make her popular and nice right from the beginning?
The best scenes that hold good drama are not between the young couple. Surprisingly, the conversations between Reverend Moore and his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest), are most magnetic. I loved the scene when she summons the courage to tell him that, essentially, he is wrong to have imposed his spiritual beliefs on the town especially when the citizens should have been given the opportunity to grieve in their own way. I liked that Wiest plays her character almost mousy, her words spoken so softly that I am forced to almost lean in and read her lips. Not one scene between Ren and Ariel is able to match this important conversation between husband and wife. Instead, when the young couple are alone, sappy music can be heard which reflects the material’s lack of confidence in the writing as well as the chemistry between the performers.
Directed by Herbert Ross, “Footloose” has some pockets of charm mainly due to its supporting actors. Sarah Jessica Parker, as Ariel’s perky friend, lights up the screen each time she is in front of the camera. Chris Penn, as Ren’s towering but lovable friend who does not know how to dance, deserves to have more screen time. Though it certainly has potential to be a light entertainment with good intentions, most of the elements do not align properly so it consistently trips over itself.