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Movie Review

'Bootmen' Has a Lively Story of Perseverance on Tap

October 06, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the past four years, the Australian dance troupe Tap Dogs has become a sensationthe world over with its stageful of men in work shirts and cleated work boots stamping out rugged routines to rock tunes. Their infectious Aussie high spirits and striking contrast to the traditional tie-and-tails sophistication associated with tap virtuosity has assured their popularity. It's as if Crocodile Dundee had taken over from Fred Astaire.

"Bootmen" was inspired by director--and Tap Dogs founder--Dein Perry's experiences growing up in the Australian industrial city of Newcastle. This vital, engaging drama with dance, written by Steve Worland from a story he wrote with Perry and Hilary Linstead, is more mythological than autobiographical. Yet you can imagine that on a creative level Perry must have gone through much of what the film's hero, Sean (Adam Garcia), experiences in discovering the need not merely to dance in the traditional style but also to create dances that grow out of his own environment. Indeed, Perry used as a key setting the steel mill in which he had actually worked.

In "Bootmen" you hear the incessant clang of steel, a glorious sound all but vanished in America and fading from Australia as well, which sets the beat for Perry's stage productions as well as the vigorous numbers of his film. In his first directorial effort in film, Perry displays enviable ease in allowing dance to flow naturally from his story.

With their late mother's encouragement, Sean and his older brother Mitchell performed a tap-dance act as small boys, but now they've grown up. Mitchell (Sam Worthington) is more interested in affording the truck of his dreams than in dancing and has turned into a car thief to finance it.

Sean works in the mills along with his father (Richard Carter) but has not lost his passion for dancing. He's a cocky guy whose unwillingness to take directions all but blows his audition for a revue in Sydney, where he's fired from the chorus, almost as swiftly as he was hired, for upstaging the star.

A hairdresser, Linda (Sophie Lee), he met at the audition falls prey to the manipulation of Mitchell, who convinces her that Sean won't be returning. Consequently, as Sean discovers his path in dance while returning to his old job at the factory, his slowly emerging dream is complicated by his conflicted feelings over Linda and by Mitchell's continuing criminal activity.

*

Although the audition that took Sean ever so briefly to Sydney revealed that Newcastle had plenty of young people eager to dance professionally, he faces considerable obstacles to forming the kind of dance troupe he envisions. First of all, he has no money. Second, no matter how rugged his Bootmen troupers are, they are not surprisingly often accused of being gay in their macho, blue-collar world. One of Sean's dancers, a local dance teacher, in fact turns out to be gay but is just as prepared as anyone else to use his fists if called for.

"Bootmen's" stars (Garcia, Worthington and Lee) are great-looking, talented and charismatic--particularly Garcia, who also performed in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Sydney. "Bootmen," which proves to be a real heart-tugger, is in fact accomplished in all its aspects.

Once it's out of first runs--hopefully, that will not be for some time--it will inevitably be paired with "Strictly Ballroom," which celebrates a far different kind of dance, in repertory theaters.

* MPAA rating: R, for language, some violence and a scene of sexuality. Times guidelines: Language, moments of violence are realistic to the film's environment and not exploitative; the scene of sexuality refers to a couple waking up in the morning in the same bed.

'Bootmen'

Adam Garcia: Sean

Sam Worthington: Mitchell

Sophie Lee: Linda

Richard Carter: Gary, Sean

and Mitchell's father

A Fox Searchlight presentation in association with the Australian Film Finance Corp. Director-executive producer Dein Perry. Producer Hilary Linstead. Screenplay by Steve Worland; from a story by Worland, Linstead and Perry. Cinematographer Steve Mason. Editor Jane Moran. Music Cezary Skubiszewski. Costumes Tess Schofield. Production designer Murray Picknett. Art director John Rohde. Set decorator Lea Worth. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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