Bootmen

             There are those who mourn the demise of the movie musical, that quintessential
     American film genre that has been, well, in a moribund state since the late 1960s. With
     the sexual revolution came the rise of gritty "realistic" movies, the growth of the
     independent film world, the ascendancy of rock 'n' roll, the creation of niche markets in
     radio airplay (stations are now geared to particular audiences) and the overall pervasive
     influence of MTV. Popular music, by that I mean the Tin Pan Alley sound associated with        
     the greats like Gershwin, Kern, Porter and Berlin, fell out of favor. While there have been the
     occasional "musical" films that have found audiences (e.g.,
Grease), many more quickly
     ended up relegated to cable or the video stores. Efforts to rejuvenate the form -- from Alan
     Parker's
Evita to Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark have proven to be curiosity rather
     than trendsetters. Moviegoers no longer accept the convention of characters spontaneously
     bursting into song unless they are in a Disney animated film (i.e.,
The Little Mermaid,
   Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King
).

             It certainly hasn't helped that many of the great practitioners of song-and-dance are
     no longer active. Broadway director-choreographers like Bob Fosse, Gower Champion
     and Michael Bennett are dead, and only a handful, such as Graciela Daniele and Susan
     Stroman, have stepped into that void. When an actor or actress becomes a musical star
     on stage, he or she rarely finds an opportunity to display their abilities in other media.

             Dein Perry, the astonishing Australian tap dancer turned director-choreographer,
     has entered the world of feature films with
Bootmen, a loose retelling of some of the
     major points in his life. Perry, a former steelworker who found success in the Australian
     production of the stage musical
42nd Street managed to stretch the conventions of tap
     as the driving force behind the popular
Tap Dogs, which featured six dancers in jeans
     or cutoffs and construction boots who performed various numbers while erecting industrial
     strength scenery. Perry's follow-up
Steel City was even more elaborate but suffered from
     the same basic problem -- a lack of story.
Bootmen, on the other hand, is overstuffed
     with every cliche imaginable. Although very loosely based on Perry's life, perhaps if
    Bootmen had stuck closer to the truth, the film would be more believable.

          Bootmen centers on Sean Okden (Adam Garcia), a cocky, restless steelworker
     in the coastal town of Newcastle who once had a shot at being a chorus dancer but who
     couldn't conform. Sean lives with his widowed father (Richard Carter), who seemingly
     spends most of his time watching Australian football and quaffing beer, and his older
     brother Mitch (Sam Worthington), who runs an illegal chop shop and often conflicts with
     a rival (Anthony Hayes).

             Sean's tap dance instructor arranges for he and Mitch to participate in an audition
     for a show in Sydney, but Sean blows it by not following the steps and adding his own
     flourishes. He does manage to catch the eye of Linda (Sophie Lee), a hairdresser, and
     while he demonstrates some of his moves for her, impresses the scout enough to offer        
     him a job in Sydney. While Sean heads off to seek his fame and fortune, a drunken Linda
     consoles herself with Mitch. Of course, Sean doesn't exactly hit it off with the show's star
     (Perry in an effective cameo) and is soon heading back home where he discovers Mitch
     at Linda's. A rupture between the brothers ensues and Sean channels his anger and
     energy into forming his own tap troupe -- but one with a difference. Instead of formal
     wear or rehearsal clothes, the Bootmen wear work gear. As one of the group jokingly
     exclaims to another, "You look like the construction worker from the Village People!"

             What follows in short order is a pregnancy that's telegraphed scenes before it
     is revealed, the unexpected death of a major character (perhaps in a nod to
   Saturday Night Fever), the attempt to get the parent to recognize a dancer's abilities
     (better handled in the far superior
Billy Elliot) and the closing of the steel plant. The
     latter serves as a catalyst for the Mickey-and-Judy-let's-put-on-a-show finale, which is
     breathtaking and the film's high point.

             Garcia, who starred in Perry's stage production
Hot Shoe Shuffle in Australia        
     and London, possesses that ineffable star quality. He's handsome enough to be a
     movie star, can mostly handle the dramatic scenes and proves an impressive dancer.        
     The supporting cast all does yeoman work given the dodgy screenplay.

             Perry exhibits a good visual sense evidenced by his use of odd locations. Clearly,
     he is more comfortable with the dance sequences. Whether the rehearsals or the final
     one-night only performance, those scenes are played with gusto and are what audiences
     will remember most.


     
                                                        Rating:                        C
                                                        MPAA Rating:            R
                                                        Running time:            95 mins.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.