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All heart and sole

Another in a long line of charming British imports, `Kinky Boots' delivers a message of tolerance and hope.

April 14, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Little movies about the radical self-reinvention of working-class underdogs have become as reliable a British export as Prince Harry damage control. You could say the factory layoff has become the Chekhov's gun of contemporary British cinema -- if a plant closes in Act 1, the protagonist must be engaged in some sort of arts-related fabulousness by Act 3. A decadelong diet of this sort of thing and you'd be forgiven for thinking the collapse of industry is the best thing to happen to England since Cadbury Easter Eggs.

That said, when they're good, they're peerlessly cozy and fun, if you like that sort of thing. I know I do, and the new Miramax movie "Kinky Boots" scratches the itch. A humanist parable about how to be a good person, live a good life and make gallons of lemonade when life suddenly hands you lemons, it's predictably delightful and delightfully predictable.

"Kinky Boots" stars Joel Edgerton ("Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith") as Charlie Price, whose vague plans to go into marketing are thwarted when he inherits his ancestral shoe factory, and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Dirty Pretty Things") as Lola, the drag queen who saves -- and is saved by -- him.

Charlie was raised by his father to take over the shoe factory some day, and no sooner has he decamped to London with his go-get-'em fiancee, Nicola (Jemima Rooper), than dear old dad drops dead. Charlie and Nicola return to Northampton, where Charlie soon discovers that the company is on its last legs. It's that pesky globalism again. Price shoes were made to last a lifetime, and the influx of cheap Slovakian footwear is devouring their market share.

Nicola has less than zero interest in remaining in Northhampton, but Charlie, who has been forced to lay off some of the company's workers, feels the tug of corporate conscience. As he is laying her off, a young employee named Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts) shames Charlie into thinking creatively, exhorting him to go out and find his own niche. And that he does, in the form of a cross-dressing cabaret singer who has trouble finding a reliable high-heeled shoe.

Ejiofor is resplendent as the tough and tender Lola, whose return to the boonies and catwalk triumph in Milan is as initially fraught and unexpectedly liberating as is Charlie's. The script by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth -- which was based on a true story and ushered to the screen by "Calendar Girls" producers and veteran spotters of underdog second acts Nick Barton and Suzanne Mackie -- is packed with tender insights and sassy one-liners. Told against a soundtrack of shoe-themed hits, including "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," "Cha Cha Heels," and "In These Shoes," "Kinky Boots" may tell a familiar story, but it's a story (of tolerance, agency and hope) that bears repeating.


`Kinky Boots'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, and for language

A Miramax Films release. Directed by Julian Jarrold. Written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth. Director of photography Eigil Bryld. Editor Emma E. Hickox. Music Adrian Johnston. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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