Total Recall

Total Recall: It's a Dance Dance Revolution

Tap your toes to Dirty Dancing, Footloose, and Save the Last Dance.

by | February 13, 2008 | Comments

This Friday marks the arrival of
Step Up 2 the
Streets
, the
Briana Evigan-led
sequel to 2006’s teen dancing drama
Step Up
. Aside from
continuing the Evigan family tradition (remember papa Greg in B.J. and the
Bear
?), Step Up 2 the Streets adds another chapter to the long
history of actors hoofin’ it in major motion pictures. Although it’s a genre
critics haven’t always been kind to — the original Step Up, for instance,
only netted an anemic 21 percent on the Tomatometer — audiences have been
historically dismissive of all the critical contempt, pushing dozens of
fancy-footed extravaganzas to the upper reaches of the box-office charts.

For this week’s Total Recall, we’ll be taking a look back
at three movies that used their stars’ nimble moves as the engine driving the
plot. We can’t possibly come anywhere near covering the genre as a whole —
actors have been dancing on the silver screen for about as long as there’s
been
a silver screen — so in the interest of brevity, we’ll be focusing on a
handful of the films that helped resuscitate dancing at a theater near you after
1981. (Why 1981? Because that was the year that
Steve
Guttenberg
,
Bruce Jenner
, the Village People, and
Nancy
Walker
drove a dagger through the film musical’s heart with
Can’t Stop the
Music
. It’s a film worthy of its own feature…but we digress.)

For all their crimes against dancing on film (and film in
general), the makers of Can’t Stop the Music were essentially right — you
can’t stop the music, and in just three short years, a young actor by the
name of Kevin
Bacon
went out and proved it by toplining a little movie called
Footloose

(56 percent). He didn’t do it alone, of course — he had a little help from a
supporting cast that included
Lori Singer,
Dianne Wiest,
and a wonderfully over the top
John Lithgow,
not to mention new music from Sammy Hagar, Deneice Williams, and ’80s soundtrack
king Kenny Loggins — but it was Bacon’s footwork and spiky ’80s hair that kept
kids flocking to their neighborhood megaplexes in 1984.

The plot was nothing more than the standard "rebel boy
dances his way to the top" arc that pretty much every dance film follows —
something critics everywhere noticed as they turned up their noses at
Footloose
. Screenwriter
Dean Pitchford
(who also co-wrote the soundtrack) knew something the critics didn’t, however:
with MTV invading suburban homes, kids across America were hungry for music
videos, and a movie that offered what was essentially a 107-minute video with
short breaks for dialogue would do very, very well for itself. Pitchford wasn’t
able to follow up his Footloose success with further films — 1989’s
Sing
went largely unheard (har!) — but as we’ll soon see, other filmmakers
would be only too happy to pick up where he left off.
 



 

Filmmakers such as director
Emile Ardolino,
who would, just a matter of months after Footloose finally faded from the
national consciousness, take a script by
Eleanor
Bergstein
and use it to create the cultural capstone known as
Dirty Dancing
.

It’s a little hard to explain if you weren’t there when it
happened, but just trust us — Dirty Dancing was H-U-G-E huge in
1987. The story arc is the same as ever, of course; the screenplay is supposed
to be based on Bergstein’s childhood, but that doesn’t change the fact that you
know exactly what’s going to happen at every 15-minute increment from the time
the opening credits scroll. Ardolino’s genius lay in combining a
’60s-fetishizing soundtrack with
Patrick Swayze‘s
lithe sex appeal. (This is not intended to be an insult to Jennifer Grey — but
come on. The number of guys who willingly see these movies is small, to say the
least.)

Critics were less than impressed with Dirty Dancing,
giving it a 67 percent on the Tomatometer (Rob Humanick scoffed, "An animated
rendering of its characters is virtually the only thing preventing the formulaic
Dirty Dancing from being another one of Disney’s crappy romances"), but
the movie hit its crucial demographic like a comet, spawning a live show, two
soundtrack albums, a short-lived television spinoff, and even a very belated,
tangentially related sequel. (What, you thought we forgot about
Dirty Dancing: Havana
Nights
?)
 



 

It may have been a little too successful, in fact;
the dance mini-revival sparked by Footloose lay dormant for awhile after
Dirty Dancing came and went.  The type of feel-good pop music that
dominated the dance movies of the ’80s was decidedly out of vogue during the
first half of the ’90s — just try and imagine a dance flick powered by a
soundtrack including new music from Nirvana and Pavement — and mainstream
filmmakers hadn’t yet hipped themselves to the market muscle behind modern R&B.
That all changed as the ’90s waned, however; by 2001, dance movies were becoming
a semi-regular fixture at theaters, and even Columbia University-bound
Julia Stiles
wanted in on the action.

We’re talking, of course, about
Save the Last
Dance
, the Stiles/Sean
Patrick Thomas
-led drama that, while inarguably far from a distinguished
film, is fairly emblematic of recent dance movies in general. It’s a new
century, but the basic plot remains unchanged: There are tracks, our young
lovers are from opposite sides, and only the power of dance shall convince the
world that their feelings must prevail. The crucial difference here is the
soundtrack — it’s utterly bereft of Kenny Loggins or Eric Carmen, who have been
replaced by Snoop Dogg, Pink, and Ice Cube.

Critics, of course, remained unmoved — Tim Cogshell
dismissed Dance as "a tepid movie with a few decent dance sequences and a
lot of frustrating sexual tension," placing him squarely in line with the
scribes who left the film with a 49 percent Tomatometer — but audiences, as
ever, didn’t care, sending Save the Last Dance to nearly $100 million in
theatrical receipts.
 



 

The moral of the story, when you get right down to it, is
that people like to watch other people dancing on the big screen, no matter how
many stuffed shirts tell them they shouldn’t. It’s a lesson Briana Evigan would
do well to remember this weekend as the inevitably negative reviews come rolling
in — if, that is, the just-as-inevitably healthy bottom line doesn’t help soothe
the sting first. Our advice for Briana? Unplug the phone, kick back on the
couch, and unwind in front of a dance film marathon that includes
Saturday Night
Fever
(97 percent),
Flashdance
(31
percent), and, of course,
You Got Served

(17 percent).

Tag Cloud

American Society of Cinematographers 99% TCA Winter 2020 Disney CBS Apple TV+ Countdown RT History Hulu MCU Sundance Now Biopics Arrowverse Summer Best Actor YA Best Actress 45 zero dark thirty cops art house cars dexter RT21 New York Comic Con interviews know your critic scene in color film series TCA 2017 Trailer godzilla TCM Discovery Channel South by Southwest Film Festival christmas movies historical drama revenge WGN SXSW 2022 foreign Sundance TV news Music leaderboard Film Festival BAFTA Film scene in color series vampires rotten USA Women's History Month summer TV preview Shudder ghosts japanese women Heroines Cosplay mockumentary Fantasy black comedy asian-american suspense Super Bowl The Arrangement SXSW blockbuster Legendary Television Critics Association technology free movies binge venice fast and furious LGBT streaming ESPN Prime Video rt archives 24 frames singing competition 007 Vudu hidden camera serial killer robots 2019 Alien monster movies Showtime Turner halloween tv disaster Pride Month Best Picture Broadway chucky rotten movies we love Fox News Comedy comedies BBC 72 Emmy Awards 2018 aliens australia worst Crunchyroll PBS medical drama Video Games Writers Guild of America dragons golden globes Animation Chernobyl Black Mirror new star wars movies kaiju rt labs Adult Swim hispanic heritage month critics sopranos Crackle Marathons Calendar sitcom basketball festivals archives cancelled television new zealand DC Universe spider-man south america YouTube Premium 79th Golden Globes Awards DC streaming service harry potter FXX 1990s LGBTQ cats Trophy Talk TV Land mutant Pop Holiday nature Logo teaser Captain marvel criterion indiana jones Tubi toronto Red Carpet Brie Larson cancelled TV series classics ID Superheroes BBC America broadcast new york TBS Rocketman critic resources crime thriller child's play BET Awards A&E YouTube Horror book high school young adult FX on Hulu all-time Action PlayStation Mary poppins Nominations universal monsters Certified Fresh NBA Amazon Studios GIFs Rock IFC Films ITV adventure Paramount Plus live action TNT Winter TV dreamworks psycho TCA Native Tomatazos superhero best target black dc mission: impossible composers mob Year in Review WarnerMedia Ellie Kemper zombies Cartoon Network The Walking Dead joker obi wan nfl HFPA TV Amazon Prime Video Reality Competition Superheroe summer preview Paramount tv talk DGA Awards Tour zombie cancelled TV shows dogs Reality Fall TV emmy awards anthology Netflix Christmas movies diversity marvel comics Ovation biopic Focus Features Set visit saw Box Office sports dark Winners cults green book award winner The CW movie Epix BET 90s Lionsgate Pirates Emmy Nominations ABC Academy Awards 2015 OneApp First Look a nightmare on elm street Amazon versus nbcuniversal spy thriller First Reviews Christmas Emmys Shondaland GLAAD YouTube Red crossover Thanksgiving E3 Valentine's Day screen actors guild supernatural Turner Classic Movies streaming movies space Photos Cannes halloween video on demand Universal Pictures miniseries Pacific Islander scary twilight Funimation BBC One 4/20 Hallmark Christmas movies Sony Universal Freeform comic book movies natural history canceled Anna Paquin Instagram Live GoT Watching Series Spectrum Originals period drama streamig Bravo politics HBO posters Food Network X-Men name the review Britbox 73rd Emmy Awards boxing kids Holidays TruTV Country Comics on TV 20th Century Fox Fargo Endgame Tags: Comedy scary movies Mindy Kaling Oscars witnail 2021 marvel cinematic universe adaptation Mudbound golden globe awards Sci-Fi Apple TV Plus MSNBC SDCC scorecard comics ratings Sony Pictures blockbusters crime Masterpiece DC Comics NBC elevated horror spider-verse Hear Us Out football romance Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt AMC Plus Marvel Television NYCC science fiction anime live event Dark Horse Comics worst movies Toys Star Trek Neflix Spike movies blaxploitation talk show series Mary Tyler Moore Mary Poppins Returns documentaries TCA Awards IFC summer TV 2020 popular OWN olympics spanish language comic The Purge Comic Book Columbia Pictures El Rey Musicals aapi obituary mcc sequels cinemax Classic Film king arthur Exclusive Video razzies TIFF MTV james bond FX toy story Martial Arts Esquire Rocky renewed TV shows spanish slasher History Rom-Com telelvision Television Academy deadpool game of thrones fresh rom-coms cooking king kong The Walt Disney Company Family strong female leads rt labs critics edition Elton John heist movie spinoff Grammys 94th Oscars Apple Avengers A24 spain Nickelodeon Opinion Creative Arts Emmys Chilling Adventures of Sabrina adenture CW Seed Lucasfilm political drama comiccon Interview canceled TV shows National Geographic Disney Channel sag awards Binge Guide Peacock parents Kids & Family genre Infographic Star Wars Celebration E! travel boxoffice french Election AMC facebook television Stephen King IMDb TV stop motion docuseries stoner Star Wars TV renewals President trophy DirecTV quibi Travel Channel war die hard Indigenous Teen breaking bad royal family ABC Signature dceu 2017 Acorn TV screenings theme song concert Musical Ghostbusters Oscar scene in color discovery slashers Drama Podcast target scene in color APB Starz VICE book adaptation doctor who independent hollywood indie international comic book movie TV movies werewolf Song of Ice and Fire 21st Century Fox what to watch stand-up comedy Tarantino franchise Netflix Schedule PaleyFest docudrama cartoon action-comedy 2016 CMT CBS All Access Black History Month Disney streaming service comic books Tokyo Olympics thriller 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Disney+ Disney Plus Pop TV ViacomCBS TV One vs. Comedy Central HBO Max feel good latino trailers game show documentary The Witch Amazon Prime dramedy Trivia crime drama Lifetime See It Skip It HBO Go VH1 reboot Image Comics jurassic park animated Hollywood Foreign Press Association Western casting richard e. Grant sequel police drama lord of the rings based on movie children's TV batman gangster finale Marvel Sundance video prank Extras reviews Hallmark true crime Fox Searchlight MGM 93rd Oscars Disney Plus Wes Anderson films directors italian laika Pixar Spring TV Best and Worst hist superman Baby Yoda japan Tumblr justice league Mystery Paramount Network ABC Family legend Best Director Comic-Con@Home 2021 hispanic Warner Bros. Pet Sematary Paramount Pictures Walt Disney Pictures kong The Academy Sneak Peek wonder woman jamie lee curtis festival Quiz 71st Emmy Awards USA Network satire unscripted pirates of the caribbean debate Marvel Studios SundanceTV remakes Nat Geo Geeked Week biography Awards FOX VOD CNN cancelled Premiere Dates social media psychological thriller romantic comedy Polls and Games transformers TLC Syfy Lifetime Christmas movies Character Guide San Diego Comic-Con