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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Footloose' remake doesn't miss a step

FOOTLOOSE

(PG-13)

2 and a half out of 4 stars

Despite its rightful place in revered '80 pop-culture, the original "Footloose" from 1984 wasn't all that great and is a perfect candidate for a 21st century overhaul. This new version isn't anything you'll need to rush out and see but is completely serviceable and carries with it an undeniable, crowd-pleasing level of unsophisticated charm.

It's probably not the movie that Paramount had in mind when it was green-lit two years ago. The guy who eventually directed and co-wrote it (Craig Brewer) turned it down twice. The male lead (newcomer Kenny Wormald) only got the job after three other higher-profile actors pulled out. If not for the tenacious auditioning efforts of female lead Julianne Hough, her role would have likely gone to the more bankable Miley Cyrus, Hayden Panettiere or Amanda Bynes.

The premise itself (something that seems stuck in a '50s time warp) remains the same. In the aftermath of the auto-crash deaths of a handful of drunken teenagers in the wake of a keg party, the city council of the fictional Georgia town Bomont decides to outlaw dancing and institute strict curfews.

Three years later, after the death of his mother, Bostonian Ren (Wormald) comes to live with his uncle (Ray McKinnon) and tries to reign in his "Yankee sarcasm" while adapting to a decidedly different, but not necessarily slower southern lifestyle. Instead of gymnastics, Ren plays football and makes a fairly decent attempt to blend in with the established high school cliques.

In one amusing scene Ren and his uncle have a light-hearted debate regarding church and state that takes a not-so-indirect stab at Georgia's arcane Blue Laws and the whole no-alcohol-on-Sunday issue. Everyone at the preview screening got it and enjoyed a hearty chuckle.

At first giving and getting the cold shoulder, Ren eventually warms up to Ariel (Hough), the daughter of the local preacher (Dennis Quaid) and they become an item. Prone to dancing dirty, wearing skimpy outfits while relying on her baby-blues and thousand watt smile, Ariel isn't quite the bad girl the role calls for but isn't a total angel either. Hough -- a former "Dancing with the Stars" contestant -- not only nails the dancing chores -- she (22 at the time of filming) is eminently believable as a high-school teen and shows considerable dramatic and comedic promise.

Suggesting a cross between Casey Affleck and first choice Zac Efron, Wormald more than holds his own and is actually a better Ren (at least physically) than Kevin Bacon in the original. Though never obvious, Wormald's Ren -- with his grease-monkey talent regarding cars, dark hair and eyes, wardrobe of T-shirts and rebel-ish temperament is a more teen-friendly variation on James Dean's character from "Rebel without a Cause."

Considering how important music was to his first two films ("Hustle & Flow," "Black Snake Moan") and to the whole concept of "Footloose," Brewer takes few chances with the soundtrack. Even though most of the key songs (the title track, "Almost Paradise" "Let's hear it for the Boy") are all redone as covers, they're virtually indistinguishable from the originals. Brewer's sole example of daring comes in the form of two new hip-hop songs that work quite well.

Another new song -- "Fake I.D." -- performed by Big & Rich with Gretchen Wilson -- is played while Ren, Ariel and two of their friends are partying at Cowboy's bar in Kennesaw. If these are high-school students, what are they doing in a bar? Throughout the movie there are many scenes of underage drinking (and drug use) going on with little effort to hide it. There are also three scenes where men physically strike women. Parents might want to consider these facets of the story before allowing their teen girls to see the film.

Just like its forbearer, the new "Footloose" delivers great dancing but not much in the way of gripping drama. If the studio really wanted a big box-office contender, it should have gone for PG-level content and set the story in a middle school. As it is now, it's too rough for teens and too tame for most adults. (Paramount)