Footloose Movie Review
The teen, male version of Flashdance inspired a love of dancing to bad pop music -- especially if you could do the move where you run, jump, and slide on the dance floor on your knees. Cool, man!
Footloose is one of those films that's both appallingly bad and completely watchable at the same time, the story of a city kid (Kevin Bacon) who moves to a midwestern Bible Belt town with his parents -- a town where pretty much everything is outlawed, especially dancing and rock music. Hell, there's even a book burning now and then.
Bacon's Ren (great name, kid) immediately tries to change their backward ways -- which include playing chicken with tractors and driving across the county line to go to the country/western bar -- by launching a campaign for bands like Men at Work (sample dialogue: "Where do they work?") and The Police. But there aren't any good '80s bands on this soundtrack. Instead it's crap like Kenny Loggins (with the title track) and Denise Williams (remember her?).
Despite a love affair with the grotesquely unattractive Lori Singer, Bacon carries this movie with an unending series of dance moves that have never before or since been performed by a heterosexual man. Who choreographed this nonsense? Paula Abdul? Where is DJ Scat Cat?
Footloose has so much heart plus a legitimate message (that the Southern Baptist religion is really, really stupid) that it makes the film hard to dislike. But the movie is so sadly, sadly dated (what with all the breakdancing) that it's equally hard to fall for again.
Kenny Loggins, save us!
The new special edition DVD adds a giddy commentary track from Bacon, another from the film's writer and producer, and an extensive retrospective about the making of the film which discusses its inspiration and semi-historical origins.
In honor of Footloose's 20th anniversary, we present additional commentary from critic Aaron Lazenby:
Apropos of the year it was made, 1984's Footloose is cinematic equivalent of a Betamax machine. It's a novel idea, and not a badly executed one at that. And this artifact, permanently frozen in 1980s' amber like the upstart VHS competitor, inspires its share of nostalgic chuckles and embarrassed head shakes. Nevertheless, despite regrettable dialogue ("Jump back!" "This guy doesn't know a dance from a dipstick") and embarrassingly goofy situations (A chicken race with tractors? Dancing away your frustrations in a flour mill?), good-natured Footloose remains surprisingly enjoyable.
Bomont is a microscopic rural town where scandalous books like Slaughterhouse-Five are banned from schools, rock and roll music is the devil's soundtrack, and local law prohibits public dancing. Leading this Midwestern Taliban is Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), a fiery man of God capable of influencing most of the adult minds in Bomont. Turning his son's drunk-driving death into a public crusade to save the teenage souls of the town, Moore puts Bomont on Moral Majority-style lockdown while increasingly alienating his naughty daughter Ariel (Lori Singer).
Sound like the perfect opportunity for a rebellious outsider to shake up the status quo and liberate Bomont's youth from their killjoy parents? Damn straight. Abandoned by his father, Ren (Kevin Bacon) is forced to move with his mom to this stifling town. Within hours of his arrival, the Chicago-bred hipster is forced to confront a shocking fact: he's not on Lakeshore drive anymore. In short notice, Ren finds himself under the close scrutiny of distrusting adults, attention that gets him unfairly dismissed from the high school gymnastics team, unjustly accused of drug use and generally regarded as a troublemaker.
Armed with a wholesome rebellious streak and a new group of corn-fed friends (including an almost unrecognizable Chris Penn as Ren's well-meaning chucklehead cohort) Ren fights back with the only weapon he has: dance! Ren wants to throw a prom for his fellow seniors, complete with forbidden boogieing. Will he be able to convince the powers that be to lighten up, inspire some emotional healing, get the girl and have a bitchin' summer? Take a guess.
The cast does its damnedest to make this most of these coming of age clichés. Do not forget that Footloose marks drinking game icon Kevin Bacon's first starring role, and he glides though his scenes with strangely exaggerated, but graceful moves reminiscent of John Travolta in Grease. And Bacon's slightly spastic charm and teen-like geekiness makes him totally believable as Ren. Lithgow provides dramatic main course, believably easing between his high-minded public persona and his shattered private life. Even an ebullient and very young Sarah Jessica Parker shows up in a minor role, playing off of her recent Square Pegs success.
Unfortunately, the film inelegantly blends the familiar generation gap conflicts with musical interludes. At moments, it's unclear what kind of movie veteran helmer Herbert Ross is trying to make. Abrubt changes in tone between playful dance numbers and anguished domestic scenes beg the question: is Footloose is predominantly a musical or a drama? Portrayals of Ariel self-destructive streak, Rev. Shaw's awakening to the motives of his campaign, and a wacky prom night hoedown ensure that question is left unanswered.
For all Footloose has going for it, the film cannot get out from under the weight of the white-boy dancing, the wince inducing fashion, and the soulless electro-pop of high-'80s pop culture. Footloose is an amusing rewind, but it's a citizen of another era.