Footloose- where the white boys dance

Kick off your Sunday shoes
Oowhee, Marie
Shake it, shake it for me
Whoa, Milo
C’mon, c’mon let go
Lose your blues
Everybody cut footloose

I was 13 when Footloose came out, and I still haven’t seen it. Kenny Loggins had a lock on ’80s movie themes, and I figured “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun were enough. And even in the wake of the PMRC trying to censor “porn rock” in the ’80s, I thought a town banning the rock and/or roll music was unbelievable. But now, seen through the lens of nostalgia, I gave Footloose another look.

“Boy, I’m charging you with inciting to Quiet Riot.”

Kevin Bacon plays Ren, a hip kid from Chicago who moves to some podunk town in Utah with his mom after his Dad bails on them. As the outsider, he takes some crap from the local jocks and smart-asses. He ends up befriending one named Willard (a surprisingly skinny Chris Penn) when he shows that he’s got balls and won’t be bullied. However, one thing he can’t overcome, or even comprehend, is the town’s repressive attitude toward dancing and rock & roll- they’re both banned, and you can get pulled over for playing Quiet Riot in your car. The town’s lawmakers are quite convinced that if you bang your head, the Metal Health will drive you mad. And they don’t want you goin’ mad.

L’il ditty, bout Chuck & Ariel… two American kids livin’ in the heartland

Reverend Shaw (John Lithgow) has the town locked down; his son died in a car accident coming home from a rock ‘n roll dance, and as usual, he doesn’t blame his stupid drunk-driving Darwinian failure of a child, but the music. So he keeps a tight leash on his daughter Ariel (cellist Lori Singer), who in place of rocking and rolling, likes to perform suicidal stunts. Such as standing on her boyfriend’s pickup truck and her friend’s car, while they play chicken with a tractor trailer, or dodging trains at the last minute. Seriously, if Daddy knew what she was doing, he’d toss a pile of Mötley Crüe records and a six-pack in her room and tell her to go hog wild.

She has a thing for big trucks and trains… repressed much?

Her boyfriend is Chuck, and being the douche of the film, has to bully and challenge Ren to a game of chicken with tractors. You know, to give it a country flair. Or maybe it’s because Ren drives a beat-up VW Beetle and Chuck’s truck would go over it like a speed bump? Either way, this is the scene jammed in to make male viewers stay put during a movie about dancing. Ren wins because he can’t find the brakes, and the school gives him a begrudging respect. But more importantly, Ariel decides he’s the big dog now, and starts working her wiles on him. Because she’s a crazy preacher’s daughter, her idea of fun is to meet on the railroad tracks at night, and make Ren save her from being hit by a train. In a normal movie, that would be followed by him dumping the crazy bitch off home, but this being an 80’s Trash of the Week, it makes romance bloom.

“And the Lord did boogie.”

Once enough kids are on Ren’s side, he decides to take his case before the town council, and ask that the school be allowed to have a prom. He quotes from the Bible about David dancing for the glory of God, but still doesn’t win them over. They claim that if kids dance, “one thing will lead to another,” and people will crash it with booze and violence will erupt. Ren decides they’ll have a dance at the Roller mill where he works, outside the city limits. But there’s another problem, his buddy Willard can’t dance, so we’re subjected to a montage of dance training sequences in manly places, like the school gym, and near tractors, and on the wrestling mats. Let’s hear it for the boys- they manage to not look totally gay while doing it, and that’s saying something.

Chris Penn, before he discovered donuts.

Reverend Shaw finally breaks down when he’s butting heads with his daughter, because she won’t tell him where she goes all night. Her comeback is actually pretty good- “you care more about me when I’m not home, than when I’m right here!” But he slaps her a good one anyway. Lithgow doesn’t play him as a monster; he is just misguided, distraught over the loss of his son. Which would mean Ariel lost her brother, but she doesn’t seem to care much. Nor does her mother Vi (Dianne Wiest, looking even more alien than usual). What finally changes Reverend Shaw’s mind is a bizarre shoehorned “message” in the screenplay. He’s in his church, having a final spat with Ariel, when she’s come to confess her sins. She says she’s not even a virgin! Now, I expected him to call forth fire and brimstone, but he’s interrupted by smoke, from outside. Lordy, no! The folks are havin’ a good ol’ book burning! See what we have stooped to and become?

If you think these prom outfits are bad, wait till you see mine

I wonder how many teenage girls in the ’80s tried to defuse there Dad’s anger at finding that his little girl wasn’t as pure as the driven snow, by having their friends stage a book burning outside. I don’t know why they weren’t burning rock records, which actually did happen in the ’80s during the PMRC Witch Trials (when Al Gore’s crazy wife was trying to get the Senate to act on “pornographic rock records.” He didn’t care as much about polluting the air with burning records back then.) When the Rev sees where his intolerance has led his town, he breaks down and supports the dance.

Loose feet at last!

And what a dance! Pink Balloons! Never-ending glitter confetti falling like snowflakes! And prom outfits you’ll never see again. I remember what an 80’s prom was like, mine was in ’89, when Guns ‘N Roses’s Appetite for Destruction wasn’t yet sated. Our theme song was the love theme from St. Elmo’s Fire, a film I have refused watch our of pure petulance. And their prom is actually better than mine was, despite it being held in a mill. Then again, they had Kevin Bacon and a young Sarah Jessica Parker cutting loose. Foot loose. Tearin’ off their Sunday shoes.

Fro-mullet and a genuine Miami Vice tuxedo.

This movie was huge. The soundtrack was inescapable in 1984. I also blame it for the ubiquity of thin ties in the ’80s. I had a powder blue satin one, myself. If someone gave it to me now I’d strangle them with it, but I wore it willingly. In 20 years I imagine we’ll be laughing at goatees and messenger bags. Hell, we can laugh about those now! Footloose is a disjointed film that tries to do a lot. It doesn’t always succeed, but it’s a solid high school story with a decent soundtrack, and some memorable scenes with actors who’ve gone on to bigger and better things. Kevin Bacon, famous for slimeballs in Sleepers and The Woodsman, was almost a prettyboy here. Chris Penn is so far off from his role as Nice Guy Eddie, your go-to guy for “easily enraged fat guy” of the ’90s that he’s barely recognizable. And Sarah Jessica Parker of “Sex in the City” is positively adorable, back when she had measurable body fat. Nowadays she reminds me of a talented giraffe. So if you want to revisit 1984, Footloose isn’t the worst way to do it. It’s popcorn with little nutritional value, but sometimes that’s what you need- trash.

Sarah Jessica Parker, back when she used to eat food.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? They tried a musical. It failed.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Provolone (aka smelly feetloose cheese)
High Points: Ariel’s suicidal hijinks
Low Point: You’re not a virgin? Wait, books are burning!
Gratuitous Boobies: Zip! This is Utah, dummy.

Death Sentence – James Wan takes a saw to our balls

Where do I begin? This is one of the biggest train wrecks I’ve scene in recent years. What the hell Kevin Bacon and John Goodman are doing in this confused, pretentious pile of crap is beyond me. It is apparently based on the sequel to the novel Death Wish, but discards its story for a bizarre combination of revenge and morality tale that makes little sense and is incredibly tedious to sit through. The Mouth from the South warned me about how bad it was, but no, I read Roger Ebert’s review, and figured what the hell. Ebert also gushed over the mediocre revenge fantasy The Brave One, which had Jodie Foster as a liberal talk show host in the Charles Bronson role, to make it more intellectual-friendly. I should have known better. Spoiler alert. When a movie sucks this badly, I don’t bother hiding spoilers.

On the other hand, Mouth hated No Country for Old Men and loves Tom Selleck direct-to-video westerns, so maybe I should have just checked Rotten Tomatoes first. Like The Brave One, Death Sentence‘s only redeeming qualities are the performance of its lead. Kevin Bacon can play oily scumbags like the pedophile prison guard in Sleepers with ease, or tortured ones like in The Woodsman; here he’s not a pedophile, but an insurance adjuster, so sort of in the same realm. Nick Hume lives in suburban paradise, which we learn about through home movies that look like they’re from the ’70s; he has a wife and two sons, and a typical suburban life until his golden boy hockey player son has a game in… The City.

From the Director of Saw and the writer of Death Wish comes: Shit.

From there he drives into an urban legend; on the way home from the game, he sees two suped up muscle cars driving without headlights, and flashes his high beams at them. They turn around, play chicken with him a bit, and disappear. He gets lost, and is also low on gas, so he drives into a shady gas station to fill up before a third cliche strikes. He doesn’t have to wait long; the two muscle cars show up to rob the store, complete with shotguns and ski masks. They blow away the shopkeeper, who for some reason isn’t behind bulletproof glass like most poor schleps in shitty neighborhood gas stations, and his son witnesses it… so they goad a younger gang member into offing him with a machete, and then leave him there… to make him a man. Don’t ask this to make sense. It only gets worse.

Nick attacks the now unarmed ‘banger and unmasks him, but he escapes only to be hit by a passing car. Flash forward to months later at the trial; the family is still grieving over their lost son, and when the prosecutor tells Nick that the killer will likely only get a few years, he sabotages the trial by saying he can’t identify him. And no one has any idea what he is obviously planning. Even when his family finds him in the basement with a machete and a hunting knife, they don’t suspect anything. (How many insurance adjusters have machetes in their basement? I know I’d have a dozen, but I’m a crazy knife guy.)

Why was it my cool hockey star son and not the loser!

Nick doesn’t have to work himself up to kill, and of course gets in the requisite struggle that ends in someone getting stabbed. His hand gets all cut up, too; when the cops come to tell him that his son’s murderer has been killed, they don’t even notice the huge fresh bandage on his paw. No wonder they haven’t found the two flame-painted muscle cars he saw at the scene! The cops are pretty stupid in this movie, unlike The Brave One and Death Wish. The rest of the gang immediately figure out who offed their homie, and hit back at Nick in his office. The cops still don’t figure out what’s going on. Between action sequences we get pretentious, dramatic scenes set to insipid or annoyingly dramatic music, as James Wan tries to make something deep out of this. But the set piece in the parking garage, when the whole gang is chasing Nick after trying to whack him outside work, defines everything that’s wrong with the movie:

Nick is walking from work and we see the one black member of the otherwise skinhead gang (these guys just take the tattooed skinhead look, but are racially tolerant thugs) stalking behind him. When he pulls a gun to execute him, Nick psychically knows this and swings his briefcase, disarming him like a super spy, then runs when the gang leader (Garrett Hedlund, Four Brothers) opens fire. They chase him through a maze of alleyways and finally to a parking deck, where he starts setting off car alarms to get people’s attention, or attract the police- it doesn’t work, of course. No one pays attention to car alarms. He makes his way to the top, where a lone thug is searching, and tackles him to disarm him. This leads to a protracted battle, wild gunshots that no one hears, and finally a struggle into a parked car. Nick releases the parking brake and the car slowly begins rolling toward the edge, dramatic music playing as he tries to kick out the windshield, while also tying the bad guy with a seat belt. As the car inches toward the edge, with the flimsy guard rail, instead of being excited about impending death for our hero, I began wondering what sort of parking deck has a rail so weak a car can roll through it. That’s sort of an insurance liability right there. You’d think an insurance adjuster like Nick would have pointed that out to his employers. Of course he leaps out just in time, while thug #2 plummets to his death. What’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t he just push the guy off the roof? He’s already stabbed someone and watched him die. There’s no need for that convenient Hollywood killing, where self-defense, mixed with “I didn’t push him, I just didn’t help him” morality.

Equal opportunity skinheads

Later, they deliver a threat to his office, because he dropped his briefcase and they now know who he is and who his family is; as if they couldn’t figure this out when their first buddy went on trial. Inside the briefcase is a photo of Nick’s family with X’s on their faces, and if we can’t figure it out, the leader calls him at work and says that he has put a DEATH SENTENCE on his family. It’s always refreshing to know that movies still think they need to recite their title, in case the audience was wondering why it was called that. Especially in a movie about a guy who’s kid is murdered, and the bad guy is only going to get 3-5 years, instead of a death sentence, which is what we’d like to see. And a movie in which the father then goes to execute a death sentence on that criminal. I for one still don’t know why Star Wars is called that, since it was about a rebellion, and no one fought over any stars. Hopefully Lucas will rectify that in yet another special edition, where Porkins rolls his eyes and mutters, “I’m sure tired of all these star wars,” right before he’s shot down.

At this point in the movie there’s still an hour left. Nick goes to the cops, who practically say “well, you started it.” Cops typically look down on vigilantism, but you’d think when they know who the bad guys are, they’d do more than put one cruiser outside. You know, especially since she knows Nick avenged his son, maybe they’d arrest him, and put his family in protective custody. But no, a cruiser with 2 cops who are immediately killed is parked outside, and the thugs invade the house with ease. Now, a director with some talent can make a home invasion one of the most gut-wrenching examples of cinematic horror, because seeing your loved ones at gunpoint is a real and terrifying threat. A shitty director like James Wan wouldn’t know suspense if Alfred Hitchcock and Wes Craven branded it on his nutsack with a curling iron, because Lead Thug just immediately shoots Nick’s wife and remaining son in front of him, before shooting him too. In the shoulder. Without a finishing shot. Why? So he can survive and avenge them. Now, in the first half hour of this movie, Nick has hunted down and stabbed the guy who killed his other son, but now he’s really driven over the edge. Now he’s gonna avenge his family like a real movie bad-ass.

You suck at criminalizin’!

When Nick wakes up from this onslaught, and I’m not joking, he walks out of the hospital in the rain, wearing his gown and no shoes, and goes all the way back home. To sad music. He takes a bunch of money out of the bank and goes to buy some guns, from… the gang leader’s Dad! John Goodman, who plays a psychopathic poppa and owner of a body shop slash illegal gun bazaar, must be the only place in town. And the best part is, he recognizes Nick. It’s been established earlier that Goodman prefers money to his feckless small-time crook sons, so he says flat out that he don’t mind him killing his other son, because he’s a “paying customer.” He also warns him not to ask where his son is. Cuz that’s crossing the line! I’ll sell you the guns to do it, but I sure ain’t gonna help any more!

“I will dare to reference Straw Dogs with my shitty motion picture.”

Goodman is always good as a bad guy, but he’s so incredibly over the top in his few scenes that you wish the entire movie was in that tone, instead of trying to tell us that revenge is bad, and that if whitebread suburban dorks like Nick kill street-tough thugs’ siblings…. there might be repercussions. They even try to make an allusion to war, and that war is bad, because people die. Well, yeah, we knew that. But the movie lets Nick shave his head and go on a successful killing spree, ending with him and his nemesis sitting wounded next to each other. “Look what I made you become.” Wow, he even shaved his head like the bad guys! He has become one of the bad guys! Holy shit!

I’ll cry when I’m done killin’.

Yes, it’s that stupid. I have no idea what Kevin Bacon was thinking by taking this horrible movie, yet his acting skills are what make it watchable. Maybe he just wanted to have some fun and play Bronson. Either way, stay the hell away from his movie. It can’t make up its damn mind about whether to be a drama, a revenge film, or even whether revenge is worth the cost. You want to see a good over the top revenge movie? Go see Four Brothers, by John Singleton, starring Markie Wahlberg, Terence Howard and Tyrese Gibson. Set in Detroit, it’s like an old ’70s exploiter modernized. It’s a lot of fun, and vengeance is not without its price, and the director isn’t a fucking hack who should stick to movies about killer ventriloquist dolls and silly twist within a twist gimmicks. I enjoyed Saw and Dead Silence for what they were, but Wan needs to stay in the B movie realm. If Death Sentence had played out on that level, it would have been enjoyable. If you want an arty revenge movie, see Dead Man’s Shoes; if you want an intellectual one see The Brave One. If you want the classic, see Death Wish; the first one is quite good, and if you want silly, see Death Wish IV- the Crackdown: