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'Bootmen' falls in step with other dance movies

Friday, November 24, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Bootmen" bears the footprints of so many other dance movies that it could be mistaken for one of those floor mats that shows you how to waltz, rumba, tango or, in this case, tap. Accordingly, it lays out a narrative formula so hoary that the Nicholas Brothers might have once tripped over it in their youth.


RATING: R, for language, some violence and a scene of sexuality.

STARRING: Adam Garcia, Sophie Lee, Sam Worthington.

DIRECTOR: Dein Perry.

WEB SITE: www.foxsearchlight.



This Australian film tells the story of Sean (Adam Garcia), a young steelworker who would rather be tapping. He has the skill to become a pro, but his cockiness and lack of self-discipline turns off traditional companies.

So he decides to form his own, using his pals from the hometown dance school. His gimmick is the working-class world in which he grew up. His troupe attaches metal plates to work boots, performs in industrial settings and incorporates the sights and sounds of the machine shop into its work.

The cinematic echoes fairly shout at you: "Billy Elliot," also set in a working-class town and featuring a protagonist whose father opposes his dream; "Flashdance," with its Pittsburgh welder working a new style into the traditional repertoire; "The Full Monty," with its steelworkers turned strippers; "Dancer in the Dark," with its musical production numbers that take place in a factory.

The plot points also line up familiarly. Sean competes with his older brother, Mitchell (Sam Worthington), for the love of a woman, the hairdresser Linda (Sophie Lee). His steelworker dad has never seen Sean tap, seeing it as less manly than Mitchell's hopes of owning a fleet of trucks.

But Mitchell is financing his dream by selling auto parts from stolen cars, which raises the ire of the area gangleader who sees that as his domain. The level of frustration and anger rises until calamity strikes more than once, leaving Sean and his troupe to heal the wounds through their dancing.

Director Dein Perry counteracts the triteness of Steve Worland's screenplay by injecting the film with a power dose of blue-collar energy and stamina. The soundtrack blares with music and the sounds of tap, sometimes to the point where you can't quite hear the dialogue (the Australian accents don't help).

Still, Perry demands your attention with the combination of aural overload, stomping tap dancers, a soaring camera, the hulking steel mills and the industrial jetsam of the Australian seaside steel town of Newcastle.

Actually, that also pretty well defines the dance scenes. Perry is the founder of the industrial-strength stage troupe Tap Dogs, and the movie is supposedly based loosely on his own life. So everything in the movie leads to the really big show at film's end, after which all the rifts are healed.

Is that all it takes? Send us all a pair of those tap boots, fella.

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