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Sunday, April 09, 2006


ModFab On...Kinky Boots

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Linda Bassett
Written by Geoff Deans and Tim Firth
Directed by Julian Jarrold
PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, and for language

The tagline on the poster for Julian Jarrold's Kinky Boots boasts that it is "from the makers of Calendar Girls", a boast that is truer than the studio probably intended. For not only do these two strained comedies have the same "makers", they also share other attributes: an inspired-by-a-true-story premise, a gooey sentimental center, a faux-racy plot, and a crew of talented but utterly miscast actors. Both films also struggle to please all of their target demographics, and to their credit, they both achieve a veneer of charm and whimsy that makes one wonder what might have been. The difference between the two? Calendar Girls is already on DVD. KINKY BOOTS just feels like it is.

The screenplay of KINKY BOOTS is a full-on genre mashup, a borrowed mix of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Full Monty. From Priscilla, it borrows its drag queen protagonist (Lola, played with awkward spirit by Chiwetel Ejiofor) and specific plot points (including shrewish wives and the requisite arm-wrestling scene...why must heterosexuals always arm-wrestle drag queens to reinforce their self-worth?). KINKY BOOTS, however, trades in Priscilla's road movie cliches for Monty's working-class economics, with a shoe factory in peril under the care of Charlie (Joel Edgerton), whose dubious encounter with Lola leads to a revelation...make women's shoes that comfortably fit men (including Lola's titular boots) and save the factory in the process.

And before you can say Gung Ho, we're off, with Lola hired as shoe designer, Charlie as utter nincompoop, and a cast of bluntly adorable factory workers at the ready. It is here where the filmmakers switch source materials, and decide to borrow from To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. (Hardly a classic itself.) As the embattled Lola -- now dressing in boys' clothes, because straight people just can't handle men in frocks -- slowly wins over the hearts and minds of the rural working folk, her endlessly generous spirit and unbelievably naive view of the world teaches all the heterosexuals what it truly means to love. (You are now free to vomit into the nearest receptacle.)

If KINKY BOOTS sounds like a dubiously constructed fantasy, bingo. Adrian Johnston's swirly orchestral score and derivative disco makes the case that the film is a whimsical fairy tale, but it's a hard sell when your story revolves around a downtrodden warehouse. (Not exactly the Land of Oz.) Sure, there's something to be said for its obtusely uplifting message, and a community coming together to triumph over adversity. But the film is far too insubstantial to make any interesting use of its social agenda, and the easy answers it finds about prejudice and bigotry strain credibility.

If there is a bright spot to be found in KINKY BOOTS, it is Ejiofor, who is admittedly a terrible drag queen but a terrific actor. His work in Dirty Pretty Things, Four Brothers and Inside Man revealed a dexterity that makes him a casting director's dream; in Boots, he flings himself into Lola, giving her a brusque ferocity and knowing sadness that is better than the screenplay deserves.

Can a film be a victim of its own eagerness to please? Sure...especially a feel-good comedy that's got the word kinky in the title. Ultimately, there's no danger, tension, or innovation that could propel KINKY BOOTS beyond its TV-movie-with-a-twist shtick. Perhaps Lola could become a Calendar Girl, and finally make the circle of mediocrity complete.
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