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When a remake of Footloose was first announced, the reaction was not positive: "Completely unnecessary!" cried critics. The 1984 dance flick, about a city kid who kicks up all kinds of trouble when he moves to a town where dancing has been outlawed, was a kitschy, of-its-time classic, they said — a contemporary update couldn't possibly work. The new Footloose dances into theaters this weekend, with former Justin Timberlake backup dancer Kenny Wormald stepping into Kevin Bacon's "Sunday shoes" and Dancing With the Stars alum Julianne Hough assuming Lori Singer's role as Ariel, the defiant daughter of the preacher who institutes the boogie ban. Critics couldn't be more surprised by the remake, calling it "one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011" and "even better than the original." Really?
It's that good: We didn't need a new version of Footloose, says Alfonso Duralde at The Wrap. "But not needing a second piece of birthday cake doesn't make it any less delicious." The remake, smartly, incorporates a more multiracial Georgia setting and a heftier backstory for Bacon's character, Ren (he's an orphan now). But, thankfully, it leaves much of the original flick's script, songs, and iconic moments — maroon tuxedo and warehouse angry dance included — intact. Also unchanged: Footloose's glorious cheesiness. The remake is "as cornball as the original, but it's also just as exuberantly entertaining."
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It's all thanks to the talent involved: The dance sequences are just as fun and spirited, says Richard Lawson at Gawker, but, in 2011, "we get our kicky line dancing and some parking lot crunk." Rest easy, too, Bacon lovers. Wormald acquits himself quite nicely, pulling off hard, vulnerable, and charming. As for the controversial casting of reality TV dancer Hough as his feisty, wounded love interest? "Daggum if she doesn't actually pull it off."
Still, some of the updates fail: Did director Craig Brewer really think that less dancing was the way to go? asks Michael Phillips at The Chicago Tribune. The "antiseptic" leads cut loose far less than their '80s counterparts did, presumably so that this version could focus more on the characters' emotional grounding: The fatal car accident that sparks the dance ban is actually shown, for example, and Ariel's abusive relationship is given the screen-time it deserves. But sacrificing the silliness of all the dancing for story makes the remake feel a bit hidebound. "And nobody ever called a dance-driven movie 'hidebound.'"
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