Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4-5
Director Craig Brewer and his scriptwriters have created a high-energy update of the 1984 teenager classic in which rock music is banned from their small town. The original version required the sus pension of belief that even in an out of the way town teenagers would have no contact with rock music. This time it is avoided by having the youth well aware of the banned music and sneaking out to a drive-in/restaurant to dance to the forbidden songs.
In real dancer Kenny Wormald the filmmakers have found a credible replacement for Kevin Bacon’s big city kid Ren McCormack. One of the dance highlights is his letting off steam in an old warehouse as he turns up the volume on his player and performs an acrobatic dance that includes him swinging from the rafters and a pulley on a chain almost as much as he bounces around on the floor. Dennis Quaid also is an excellent replacement for John Lithglow as the Rev. Shaw, the narrow-minded minister who caused dancing and loud music to be banished from their small town because of a tragic accident three years earlier following a dance.
After caring for and then losing his mother to leukemia in Boston, Ren comes to Bomont, Georgia to live with his aunt and uncle and their young children. From the start he gets into trouble with the law for playing his car radio too loud. This leads to trouble with his school principal, and then a bit later, he has aroused the enmity of fellow student Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger), whose girlfriend Ariel (Julianne Hough) has been making eyes at the new kid. This leads to an unbelievable incident in which Chuck, Ren, and other teenagers drive old school busses in a dangerous race. (Whoever came up with this hair-brained sequence ought to be fired! Where did the kids get the money to buy these and to risk wrecking them so spectacularly?)
After a series of such events Ren decides to circulate a petition to overturn the city ordinance and go before the town council to speak on its behalf. Inspired by the Reverend’s rebellious daughter Ariel, Ren, as in the original, makes good use of Biblical material in a climactic scene at the town council.
Besides my quibble over the bus race, I also find it unbelievable that a minister’s daughter would be allowed to wear such skimpy, provocative clothing as Ariel does—or that teachers and other adult members of her church would not have made this an issue. There is one scene in which Ariel and her father talk, but there never seems to be any contention at home over her attire.
The film is thus a very flawed affair, with some scenes that make it bearable to watch. Best is the sequence in which Ren’s new friend Willard (Miles Teller), who has always hung back when his girlfriend Rusty (Zia Colon) asks him to dance, learns from Ren’s young cousins the moves that transform him into a teenaged Zorba. Also appreciated is the fact that the narrow-minded pastor can change his mind.
More liberalized use of profanity and sexual suggestions (in dance and kissing scenes) make this a risky choice for taking a church youth group to see and discuss it, so proceed with caution—despite its many flaws, the film could launch a discussion of music and responsibility. However, there are far better films, including Federico Fellini’s great Zorba the Greek (that’s for adults; Grease or Saturday Night Live will suffice for youth) for those who want a dance film, or Land of Plenty in which a narrowed-minded minister comes to his senses.
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