The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Footloose’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked 1984’s “Footloose.”

The info:

The Movie: “Footloose” (1984)

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow

Director: Herbert Ross

Plot Summary: (From Hulu) An urban teenager who moves to a small town dominated by a fundamentalist preacher wages an ambitious war against adult repression.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 54 percent

Our take:

Brown: For the second straight week, the JOE-DOWN is checking out a movie about teenage angst. Last week with “Heathers,” we saw that angst turn into stylized violence and catchy one-liners. This time, teenage angst is getting expressed… through DANCE.

After watching this movie, I can confirm that the most rebellious music of all comes from Kenny  Loggins and Bonnie Tyler.

Before our choreographed battle against The Man, how was it for you to revisit this 80s classic, Froemming?

Froemming: This is a movie about an idyllic town with strong family values that is suddenly terrorized by an out-of-towner who mocks the laws and blasts Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” non-stop in his car. I, too, would be upset by Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) coming along and making a mockery of everything I hold dear with his perversion for dancing and love of Kenny Loggins’ music.

In other words, I didn’t see this as teens being oppressed, I saw it as out of control kids terrorizing a town while under the influence of dance-crazed maniac.

Brown: All right, so we are going to go in an unexpected direction today. Let’s see where it goes:

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“Footloose” starts off right away with nothing but shots of feet while the credits roll and the title track by Kenny Loggins blasts for the first of at least three times in this film.

Froemming: There was so many feet shots that I almost thought Quentin Tarantino directed this.

Brown: Then we are introduced to Ren, who leaves Chicago to move in with his aunt and uncle. Why? I don’t know, because he got into one little fight and his mom got scared and said he’s moving in with his auntie and uncle in Bel-Air Bomont? It’s a quiet farm community full of mountains and repressed rednecks. And yet, I don’t know what state this movie takes place in… I think Springfield may be one of the neighboring towns.

Froemming: It is as flat as southwest Minnesota, yet has mountains. I’m guessing Shelbyville is also a neighboring town.

Anyway, we are also introduced in the beginning to the Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), who is the true hero of this film. He is trying to hold his convictions together, while still trying to keep his family happy and healthy together. His daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer), just flaunts her rebellion in his face, with no regard as to how he feels about her poor life choices — of which the rebellious music of Bonnie Tyler is the soundtrack of. Not only is he the hero, he is also the victim of all this “pro-dancing” propaganda that Ren has brought to this town.

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Brown: Right away, there’s tension between Rev. Moore and Ren. Although Ren is already feeling the status quo holding him back in this town, he kind of deserves it. Straighten your tie and comb your hair, Ren, you slob.

Now, with all this talk of no dancing and no popular music in the hopes of keeping the children from fornicating, how exactly did Rev. Moore survive the 50s with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe? Are there no TVs in Bomont as well? Ren also gets shunned for reading “Slaughterhouse-Five,” then gets told “Tom Sawyer” is a classic the community revers. Because there’s NOTHING offensive in that book.

Froemming: As much as I enjoyed the older folks hating on all this flashy modern music, I thought them hating “Slaughterhouse-Five” was a little odd. Sure, it has a strong anti-war message, but man it’s a really great book that really has a lot less harsh language than “Tom Sawyer.”

Brown: Then we get introduced to Ariel, who already has a rebellious streak. She shows this by doing one of the most reckless things I’ve ever seen in a movie: Standing up between two moving cars on a country road with a semi truck speeding towards them. Seriously, how much precision driving are we hoping these teenagers are capable of so they don’t split their friend in half like a wishbone?

Froemming: It was the first of two references I made in my notes where I thought she was purposely trying to kill herself.

Brown: This is something that bugged me the whole movie: One character, Chuck, drives the pickup truck has a boombox in the cab and has Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead stickers in his rear window. For being anti-rock and roll, they are awfully lenient with psychedelic bands in Bomont.

Froemming: You know the guy in the truck is trouble because of his love for 70s prog/jam rock. Anyway, we also see that the kids in this town have a hangout spot called The Spot, which was perhaps one of the laziest writing choices I have ever seen on film.

Brown: Not as lazy as some of the choices they made in trying to make Ren into a rebel. Like him rolling up to school in his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle, blasting “Metal Health” and wearing a leather jacket. It’s almost exactly like Billy Madison driving to high school with his REO Speedwagon shirt listening to “The Stroke.”

Froemming: Ren’s reign of terror is just beginning, because he befriends Nice Guy Eddie Willard (Chris Penn) at school, and captivates this nice young man’s imagination with his scandalous stories of dancing in Chicago. Look Ren, if you want to live a disturbing life, that’s your choice. But don’t drag Sean Penn’s little brother into your filth.

Brown: Dude, you are turning into the overbearing dad at the beginning of the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” music video.

Because of Ren’s big city ways, he has drawn the ire of Chuck, who challenges Ren to tractor chicken. I’ll let you take this scene.

Froemming: It is the slowest, most boring game of chicken ever. It may have been only a few minutes on screen, but it felt like an eternity.

Brown: Even with the thrashing tones of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” scoring the scene, this scene is painfully slow. All I could think of was the steamroller death scene from “Austin Powers.”

But through sheer happenstance, Ren wins this game of chicken despite never driving a tractor in his life, and is now popular among his peers. But, he’s not allowed to dance and needs to take his anger out on the world… by driving to a railyard and doing his best “Flashdance” routine.

Froemming: OK, there is a montage 30 minutes into this film of all the things we literally just saw. And any doubts I had about this town’s anti-dancing laws went out the window once Ren decides to cut loose, you know, footloose. It was one of the most disturbing moments in this whole movie. It made me wish every town banned dancing.

Brown: The whole montage is such non-sensical fun. When I was a teenager and was angry with the authority figures in my life, I put on headphones, screamed in my car or swallowed that anger into the pit of my stomach like a true-blooded Minnesotan. I did not go to an empty railyard and do an interpretative dance. Hell, Ren swings on chains, does flips and, the most unfathomable part of it all, does a gymnastics high bar routine where he sticks the landing better than any Olympian could dream of. Ren’s ankles should be shattered and amputated like Lt. Dan, that’s all I’m saying.

When Ren’s dance is finally over, Ariel is there to greet him and at this point, I think this woman is off her meds.

Froemming: I’m just glad he knew all those chains and wooden bars were safe to do all that crazy dancing on. One rotten board would have cut Ren’s life tragically short. And it is here that Ariel brings Ren to her version of “Charlie’s Bad Room” from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I think she needs therapy, what with the hand scrawled notes on the walls. Like I said, I think she is deeply depressed, and it is here that I wrote for the second time I thought she was suicidal because she plays chicken with a TRAIN.

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Brown: Yeah… this movie didn’t exactly do the best job of trying to make Ariel into a free-spirited character that’s looking to break free from the chains her father put around the town and her personal life (banning her from dating Ren). She comes across as legit insane. Ariel, there’s a reason Ren won’t kiss you for so long, because you’re certified.

Froemming: Yup, she is a bit touched in the head. But after all this, she goes home (late) and yells at her poor father, who just wants her to follow his rules. This poor bastard just can’t get a break in this movie.

Brown: OK, you have to explain to me why Rev. Moore is so revered in this town. The man has no charisma from what we see, yet he has the power to turn Bomont into the Middle Ages or into an oppressive Middle Eastern country where religion is law? I don’t see it.

Froemming: One, he is the town’s pastor. Two, his son was killed in a freak dancing-related auto accident.

Brown: Yep. That is a legit plot point, folks: Dancing kills. The idiocy of this is so strong it does not require elaboration.

Froemming: After this, Ren decides to take Ariel, Willard and Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) to a honky tonk bar, where dancing is not only legal, but encouraged.

Brown: I don’t know about you, but I was getting crazy “Urban Cowboy” flashbacks.

Froemming: Oh yeah. I was keeping an eye out for Travolta and the mechanical bull he loves in the background. But it is here Willard makes an announcement to Ren. He can’t dance. And he seems like he really has no interest in dancing. And after a few beers, he gets into a bar brawl, because that is how Willard blows off steam, not dancing in grain silos.

Brown: And this is a startling revelation because… why? That should be expected from Willard because he’s lived in a community where dancing is forbidden. Why Rusty and Ariel can dance is beyond me, and we are definitely going to touch on that later.

Froemming: This leads to the second montage of this film. Clearly, Willard was happy with his non-dancing ways, drinking beers and getting into bar fights — being himself. Ren forces him, to the racy tune of Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” to learn to dance. Not only is Willard not comfortable with all this wild music, he is clearly not comfortable kicking off his Sunday shoes with Ren.

Brown: Just like with the first one, this dance montage was stupid fun. I discovered something about myself in this movie: I love a good dance montage thrown into the middle of a movie because reasons. And you know what? Good for Willard. He could have been another country bumpkin that drowned his sorrows of teenage sexual angst and failed dreams of leaving home by being a violent, drunk redneck. But no, he took his angst out by shimmying alone in a parking lot. You do you, Willard!

Froemming: Well, here is a glimpse into Willard’s future:

Maybe dancing wasn’t the best idea for Willard. It set him down a dark path.

But the kids, under the influence of a charismatic monster, want to have dancing at their prom. And they will present their argument to the City Council.

Brown: OK, this scene was baffling. Ren knows that the one person on the council that he has to try and win over is Rev. Moore. And how does he try this? Ariel gives him a bible with passages that are highlighted, talking about the virtues of dance in biblical times. Besides Ren seeming nearly illiterate with how slowly he’s reading his speech, Shaw seems taken aback by these passages in the bible. Dude, you’re a pastor. Do you not know these passages exist?

So now we know: Rev. Moore is a bad pastor, along with being a bad husband (he and his wife clearly have intimacy issues) and a bad father (because he hits Ariel twice in this movie).

Froemming: The mere fact Ren is so desperate to destroy this town that he is willing to use the Scriptures against Rev. Moore shows just how evil this little punk is. And to do it in front of the City Council, the citizens and Moore’s peers was just a slap in the face to human decency.

And Moore hitting his daughter was just terrible.

Brown: Look, Rev. Moore’s grasp on the town is coming to an end. In one last-ditch effort to turn the youth back around, the town folks have a book burning. Even Rev. Moore realizes this has gone on for too long and agrees to let the seniors have a prom in a grain mill outside of town. He has to have the congregation pray for all the kids, because of course. But dance is finally allowed in Bomont.

Also, I’m sure the seniors loved having their dance in a grain mill. I mean, that’s a slight upgrade over a high-school gym, I guess?

Froemming: See, Rev. Moore’s story has a beginning, middle and an end. He learns from his mistakes and has character development. Frankly, he is the only well-rounded character in this whole film and that is why I think he is the hero.

Also, suddenly all these kids are amazing dancers? It took Willard a whole montage to learn to dance.

Brown: Well, before we get to the climactic dance, we get one last brawl between Willard and Chuck and his cronies as one final new guard vs. old guard symbolic gesture. Willard wins so he and Ren (who dressed like a Maitre d’) go continue the dance.

And for a town that’s been repressed for so long, their dance moves seem awfully coordinated. Kids know the robot and the worm just to name a few. It’s absurd.

But the thing that blew me away the most was the amount of glitter they used for this final dance. Like, that stuff falls for a good five minutes. My theory: Bomont is a town in a snowglobe. That’s the only explanation I can think of.

Froemming: I think we hit every note here. Brown, get back, I think it’s time we go to recommendations before we crack.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: This movie is so filled with cheese I’m sure Taco Bell has it on its menu. And I got a good kick out of it. I wouldn’t watch this movie for any semblance of plot, but I would absolutely watch it if you have 90 minutes to kill and are looking for a good time.

Froemming: Despite my heavy dose of snark in this review, I think I would recommend it. It is entertaining, goofy and ridiculous. It is not a great film, but I was entertained as I sat through it.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: