Actor Kenny Wormald arrives in Craig Brewer's thoroughly winning remake of Footloose with a lot to prove, just like his character, Ren MacCormack. Ren's a big-city high school rebel who relocates to a small town, takes up the right to dance to loud, groovin' music as his cause (laws on the books forbid it), and eventually wins over everyone from the town preacher's trouble-making daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), to the reverend himself (Dennis Quaid). Wormald, meanwhile, a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, is also an outsider choice to play Ren in this energized redo of the beloved 1984 Flashdance-era classic. Yet stepping into sacred shoes once worn by Kevin Bacon, Wormald handily owns the role for a new audience. Same goes for a terrific Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) in the sidekick role of Willard so memorably originated by the late Chris Penn.
Guardians of the '80s flame will approve of the production's sincere respect for the original; church still matters, and so do Ariel's red cowboy boots. But Brewer, who previously put his high-intensity spin on Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, displays his coolest moves in the way he smartly unties this Footloose from its 1980s moorings. He matter-of-factly integrates the townsfolk. And he establishes a timeless zone in which children of all colors always yearn for freedom, and wise parents learn how to hand over the dance floor to the next generation. A–