A vigorous re-working of the puttin’-on-a-show formula, in which an amiable gang of working-class guys stage a benefit for their recently sacked steelworker buddies via a spectacular tap dancing show, “Bootmen” is great fun. It’s also a fictionalized pic about the genesis of the tremendously successful Oz tap group, Tapdogs, whose seriously macho boys in boots routines have toured widely in recent years. Tapdogs founder-turned-director Dein Perry has turned out a “Full Monty” wannabe which should be a big success Down Under (where it opens Oct. 5) and in Blighty, where lead actor Adam Garcia wowed ’em on the West End stage in “Saturday Night Fever.” In the same vein as “Billy Elliot,” this is feel-good quality fare likely to attract audiences out for a good time in most territories.
Like Sean (Garcia), the film’s protagonist, Perry grew up in the coastal steel manufacturing city of Newcastle, north of Sydney. Sean’s story, written by Perry in collaboration with producer Hilary Linstead and screenwriter Steve Worland, is otherwise mostly fictional, save for the fact that Perry was apprenticed at the steelworks seen in the film and developed his tap dance routines from his experiences on the factory floor.
Sean and his brother Mitch (Sam Worthington) live with their embittered widowed father (Richard Carter), who is wasting his life away on a steady diet of beer and TV. Like his dad, Sean works in the steelworks, the city’s main source of employment, but Sean can tell that times are changing and that jobs no longer have the permanency they once did. Meanwhile, Mitch’s illicit line of stealing cars and spare parts puts him in conflict with gang leader Huey (Anthony Hayes).
Since childhood, the brothers have attended the tap dance school run by Walter (William Zappa), mainly to ogle the girls. When Sean is spotted by a visiting choreographer on the lookout for chorus line talent for his boss, tap star Anthony Ford (played by Perry himself), he seizes the chance and heads for Sydney, even though he’s just started dating Linda (Sophie Lee), a pretty hairdresser.
Things in Sydney don’t work out, however, and Sean winds up punching Ford on stage before returning home in time to catch Mitch in Linda’s bed.
Furious with both his brother and his girl, the embittered Sean is determined to start his own tap group, and enlists the help of various old buddies who are willing to brave the homophobic taunts of their friends to work on their dance routines. There’s plenty more conflict, including the unexpected death of one major character, before the Bootmen, as they’re called, perform triumphantly at a benefit for newly unemployed steelworkers.
Pic unfolds in a series of short, crisply edited scenes that waste no time in telling the story. If anything, Jane Moran’s editing is a bit too abrupt, especially in the crucial tap dance scenes where she doesn’t allow the continuous flow of movement that made the classical tap dance movie routines so alluring.
Despite this, the film soars on the sheer built-in energy and the routines themselves, staged — as were the Tapdog numbers — against factory backdrops, with beefy dancers in boots cavorting all over steel manufacturing equipment. Small mikes inserted in the boots to amplify the sound of the taps, which otherwise would have been drowned out by the music, accentuate the precision of Perry’s choreography.
Newcomer Garcia made his mark dancing with Perry in the Oz stage show “Soft Shoe Shuffle” before wowing them in London. He makes a ruggedly handsome lead who seems like a screen natural (he made his Hollywood bow in “Coyote Ugly” in August and stars opposite Drew Barrymore in Penny Marshall’s “Riding in Cars with Boys,” due out next May); his dancing skills are also impressive.
Strong supporting cast of dancers contains several from the original Tapdogs company, notably Christopher Horsey (Angus), Lee McDonald (Derrick) and Andrew Kaluski (Colin).
As Linda, Lee confirms her status as a versatile young actor, though the fact that she never gets to dance in any serious way with Garcia denies the film some romantic possibilities.
Steve Mason’s lensing makes excellent use of unusual locations in and around Newcastle. As expected, Perry’s choreography invests the dance sequences — rehearsals and then the big concert finale — with plenty of bombastic vigor, and pic’s rousing feel-good climax will send audiences home happy. All other technical credits are top drawer. Script makes somewhat excessive use of the “f” word.