Murphy’s Law – Old School Movie Review – Footloose

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

[Editor’s Note – This column originally ran on the site on February 28, 2006. With the remake of Footloose set to hit theaters this weekend, we thought it was a good time to revisit our review of the original.]

I love movies. There is something nice about escaping into a fantasy world for an hour or two, then having everything wrapped up neatly in the end. A good movie can alter your mood, or make you think.

Which is why it is so disappointing to me that movies suck these days. At some point, movie studios began focusing on the bottom line and killed creativity. Movies today are nothing but an endless parade of uninspired sequels, remakes and adaptations of old television shows. There is no room for creativity anymore in mainstream Hollywood.

But don’t worry because I’m going to try to take you back to the glory days. I want to take you all back to a time when movies were fun, original and most of all, cheesy as hell. That’s why I’m going to take a look at some of the great movies from the past in a feature I like to call the “Old School Movie Review.”

So, if all of you would follow Mr. Peabody into the Way Back Machine, it’s time for us to travel to 1984 to the town of Bomont, where Reverend Shaw Moore has outlawed dancing because rock music promotes “easy sexuality and relaxed morality.” A town where everyone has been working so hard, been punching their cards … and they’ve got this feeling, that time’s still holding them down. They’ll hit the ceiling or else they’ll tear up this town. Now they gotta cut …

Footloose – a movie that was hailed as a modern day musical. The movie that catapulted Kevin Bacon into superstardom (paving the way for that delightful “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game). The movie that featured some of the most hilarious dance sequences I’ve ever seen.

The plot of Footloose is pretty simple. An outsider comes into the small town of Bomont and has trouble adjusting to small town life and being accepted. Everyone in the town is stuck in their ways and judgmental and eventually the outsider decides to take on the establishment and stand up for what he believes in. It’s a simple formula and one that is easy to get behind. But, since this is an 80s movie, the outsider is taking on the man over his right to dance. That’s right, not racism or poverty, the right to bust a move. As Bacon’s character, Ren McCormick, says in an impassioned speech to the town council, “This is our time to dance.”

Only in an 80s movie could Ren McCormick be considered a bad ass. Sure, he smokes, drinks, wears a leather jacket and rocks Quiet Riot at full blast on the first day of school. He even manages to swagger around Bomont with the requisite devil may care attitude and smirk on his face. But, he also drives a Yellow VW Bug, wears a tie the first day of school, vents his frustrations by dancing around an empty warehouse and is heartbroken when he gets kicked off the gymnastics team. Really, he gets a bad rap in Bomont because he is an outsider, but I can’t imagine he was seen as much of a rebel in his hometown of Chicago, unless that city was vastly different in 1984 than it is today.

The real badass of the movie is Rev. Moore’s daughter Ariel (played by Lori Singer). In the beginning of the movie, she straddles two moving cars (in a skirt, no less) as they speed down the road toward an oncoming 18-wheeler. She also drinks, smokes pot, stares down a moving train and tells her dad she’s not a virgin while he is trying to practice his sermon in the church. She also gets slapped by her father and beat up by her ex-boyfriend Chuck over the course of the film.

Chuck Cranston is the antagonist of the film. He doesn’t like Ren from day one. After exchanging some harsh words in the school’s parking lot, Chuck challenges Ren to a game of chicken, using tractors in place of cars. What really makes the scene is Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” playing over top of the action. Of course, Ren comes out on top and Chuck ends up in a lake for his troubles. But Chuck isn’t done yet. He later throws a brick through a window in the McCormick household and he and his friends wait outside of the big dance to jump Ren and his friend Willard. While fighting Ren, Chuck actually says the line, “You’re gonna dance now, McCormick.”

Willard is the requisite sidekick, played by the late great Chris Penn. Ren quickly wins him over with stories of the big city and his knowledge of rock music. Ren also ribs him early in the film with a great line, “Hey, I like that hat, man. They sell men’s clothes where you got that?” The two even do a terrible Abbott and Costello routine involving The Police and Men at Work. And, Willard learns to dance in an awesome 80s montage set to Denise Williams “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Willard’s love interest, Rusty, is played by Sarah Jessica Parker, looking slightly more attractive than she does these days. Her part in the film is pretty unmemorable, but she does foreshadow her Sex and the City role with the line, “You can’t buy a diaphragm through the mail.”

The other major character in the film is Reverend Shaw Moore, who is played by John Lithgow. As I mentioned above, he is the one who banned dancing in the town (along with the rest of the town council). He made it his personal crusade after his son was killed in a car accident, which much like Tipper Gore, he blamed on rock music. However, Moore ultimately has a change of heart after he sees that his ban on dancing was a gateway to book burning.

What is perhaps most surprising about this film is it’s emotional resonance. It’s easy to feel for Ren and Ariel and most of the dramatic scenes are done in a pretty realistic manner. You might not believe me, but if Ren’s fight had been for something besides the right to dance, the movie could have actually made it as a dramatic film. But it’s impossible (if you are me) not to just start laughing hysterically every time Ren gets down. I mean, seriously – who gets pissed off then blows off steam by dancing around? And not just dancing, Ren is doing flips and spinning and really using that gymnastic background. I mean, the guy makes Michael Flatley look cool.

Probably the most dramatic scene in the movie is when Ren’s mother asks him why he is taking on this fight. Ren tells her:

“When Dad first threatened to leave, I thought it was because of me. I thought it was something that I wasn’t doing right. And I figured there was something I could do to make it like it was and then he’d want to stay, you know? But when he left just like that, I realized that everything I’d done, hoping that he’d stay – everything I’d done, it didn’t mean shit. Didn’t matter. And I felt like, ‘What difference does it make?’ But now – now I’m thinking, I could really do something, you know? I could really do something for me this time, you know … otherwise I’m just gonna disappear.”

Now, like I said, that’s a pretty dramatic scene, but let me just remind you that he’s talking about HIS RIGHT TO DANCE.

Sorry to use all caps on you there, but that’s what has always been so weird to me about this movie. I mean, when I went to school, we had dances all of the time and who knows, maybe we took them for granted, but I never remember anyone getting all that excited about them. Actually, what really stands out to me in the film as realistic is at the beginning of the dance, how everyone is standing around awkwardly, not really getting out there on the dance floor. That’s how dances usually were in school. No one got really pumped up for them, especially not a kid as cool as Ren is supposed to be. But, of course in the film, they all relax a bit and then really cut loose on the dance floor. And, despite the fact that dancing has been outlawed in their town their entire lives, all of the high school kids are able to do these highly choreographed dance moves as “Footloose” plays at the end of the film.

It was their time to dance, indeed.

Random thought of the week:
If a fan owns a championship wrestling belt and wears it out in public, he should have to defend it against anyone who challenges him.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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