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FOOTLOOSE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Chris Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker
Director:  Herbert Ross
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  None
Length:  107 Minutes
Release Date:  August 5, 2008

“It doesn’t take long for corruption to take root, Reverend.”

“And how long is that, Roger?  About as long as it takes for compassion to die?”

Film ***

Teenagers ruled the cinema in the 1980s.  There were the barbarous clique comedies a la Heathers, and dramas with more contemplative growing-up issues, like The Breakfast Club.  And some were just good old fashioned kick-up-your-heels fun movies.  Footloose was one of those, and one of the best.

Most of us as young teens got our first glimpse of Kevin Bacon in this picture.  He plays Ren McCormick, a likeable city kid forced to move to a small town when his father leaves him and his mother.  The town is called Bomont, and it might as well be on the moon to young Ren.  It’s a place where the unspoken leader is the town’s preacher, Reverend Shaw Moore (Lithgow), and where a strict moral code has worked its way into the community laws.  Public dancing is forbidden.

Ren’s very existence as an outsider draws interest from some and inspires fear in others.  Shaw’s daughter, Ariel (Singer), is the stereotypical preacher’s kid; all hometown girlish goodness on the outside, yet bucking and kicking down fences on the inside.  She warms up to Ren, and even inspires him to take on the rigid town council in order to bring the Bomont senior class a legitimate prom.

That’s most of the story in a nutshell.  Footloose, for me, has always been a picture about moments.  There are the musical moments, of course, with an all-good song soundtrack that was a monster hit in its day, but there are also the surprisingly tender moments where we get a lot closer to these characters than a movie like this ordinarily allows.  The passages of dialogue between Ren and his mother, or between Reverend Shaw and his wife Vi (Wiest) take time to flesh out these people and explore them as human beings with real fears, hopes, and motivations. 

The movie also boasts one of the decade’s most joyful sequences for me, as Ren tries to teach best friend Willard (Penn) how to dance to the tune of Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” (you can’t watch it without a smile on your face!), as well as one of the ugliest between Ariel and her soon-to-be ex, Chuck.  Nothing enrages me like the sight of a woman being hit.

But one aspect that really elevates the movie for me is the treatment of the character of Reverend Moore.  It would have been all too easy and clichéd to create a preacher as an antagonist and make him out a two dimensional hypocrite or a power-hungry letch.  This movie isn’t afraid to show Moore as a good man with deep emotional scars that sometimes affect his judgment.  Scenes where he realizes what he’s wrought when the town’s people get ugly outside the library, or when he shares quiet moments with both his daughter and Ren, or when at the end we sense a reawakening of an old flame between he and his wife, are eloquent and defining.  John Lithgow has created many memorable characters over the years, but I’ve always thought Shaw Moore was one of his finest moments.

But it’s the charisma of Kevin Bacon that carries the weight of most of the picture.  As Ren, he carved out the role of a good, courageous but hesitant outsider that could have carried him through most of his career.  But, like most good actors, he never played it safe and repeated himself.

It's nice to see he looks back on his work in this picture with affection.  Footloose is a film that takes what could have been standard teen entertainment, and elevated it with the strength of its performances, music, and memorable moments.  It remains one of the decade’s defining moments.

Video **

The 80s continue to be the worst time period for DVD quality, and unfortunately, Footloose isn’t an exception.  Go back a few years to the late 70s and you can see marvelous transfers from Paramount for the likes of Grease and Saturday Night Fever.  But this picture suffers from the same chronic 80s disorder many other discs from the decade do.  Coloring is slightly drab, grain is frequently (though lightly) apparent, particularly in scenes with monochromatic backgrounds, and image definition is slightly soft throughout.  I’m pleased to see the picture in anamorphic widescreen, but apart from that, the image isn’t much improved over my old laser disc copy.  Extremely watchable, to be sure, but not much more.

Audio **1/2

I mentioned the killer soundtrack, and that’s where this 5.1 mix shines the brightest.  Every song, from Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” to Shalimar’s “Dancing in the Sheets” get the benefit of an opened up surround mix, with the lower frequencies pulsating from the .1 channel to get your feet moving.  Dialogue and other scenes are mostly even-leveled and front-stage oriented…clean and clear with minor panning effects here and there.  Definitely a “music rules” offering…not a problem, considering how good the tunes are!

Features 1/2*

The disc includes a bonus CD of 80s music.

Summary:

Many may scoff at Footloose as just another shallow teen flick from the excessive 80s, but I’ll always save a place in my heart for this warm and fun slice of cinema that got us up off our duffs and out onto the dance floor as young teens.  Kevin Bacon’s star making turn and John Lithgow’s fully realized performance are just two of the picture’s many pleasures.

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