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no longer active.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.
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 95 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.