Kinky Boots

(2006) ** Pg-13
106 min. Miramax Films. Director: Julian Jarrold. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jemima Rooper, Linda Bassett, Nick Frost.

The latest spawn of The Full Monty, Kinky Boots ironically tells the tale of an assembly line and the people whose lives it changes. The script by Tim Firth and Geoff Deane and the direction by Julian Jarrold is never less than obvious (and frequently cause for eye-rolling) and, though "inspired by a true story," it's as much fiction as fact. A manipulative working-class success story about a drag queen and a businessman putting sex into the shoe business, Kinky Boots is rigged for your pleasure.

Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) and his fiancee are celebrating their escape from Northampton to an urban apartment when Charlie gets bad news: his father has passed away. The Price & Sons shoe factory faces a serious challenge when hangdog Charlie is left to make the decisions regarding the factory's future. Charlie has a lot of heart, but never had much of a feel for shoe manufacturing. Worse, when he discovers his father had been covering up an economic turnaround, he's forced to make a dozen employees redundant.

In a dwindling market, Charlie is about ready to throw in the towel when one of the cast-off employees challenges him to rethink the market. A chance encounter with a drag queen named Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor, second-billed but the real star here) comes at the crucial moment. If he can solve the shoe problem of transvestites (supporting extra weight), Charlie reasons he can corner an unexplored niche market. Taking Lola on as a consultant, Charlie sets about to make "kinky boots" and, in the process, rattles the conservative employees of the factory (including the homophobic Don, played by Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead).

The punny theme is "fitting in," which neither Charlie nor Lola has ever quite managed. Firth and Deane look at the interesting problem of a son's apprehension at facing his father's legacy, but they go only sitcom deep. The same is true of Lola's story: rejected by a boxer father, the drag queen puts on a good show ("I have a terrible habit of doing the exact opposite of what people want," she says), but arm-wrestling skills nothwithstanding, Lola has a rather thin skin. The characters are, then, two-dimensional puppets for feel-good comedy, culminating in a ludicrous climactic fashion show in Milan.

Old-age pensioners who put their hand to their lips at mildly randy comedies (like Calendar Girls, also co-written by Firth) may enjoy Kinky Boots, and it's almost worth seeing for Ejiofor alone: he's a commanding cabaret performer—who knew? But everything is played up for schmaltz value or dopey laughs (all the exhortations about selling sex in shoes). Early on, Lola says, "There are some very funny people out there" as he fastens his bra—that kind of gag is just about the long and the short of Kinky Boots.

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