A correction was made to this review on Aug. 23, 2005.
A London drag queen and a bunch of Midlands working stiffs find common ground and, uh, mutual respect in "Kinky Boots," a slick, cross-tracks Britcom whose stride is hampered by its desire not to offend. Buoyed by a star-making turn from Chiwetel Ejiofor as a transvestite hoofer who helps save an ailing shoe factory with a niche line in erotic women's boots for cross-dressers, pic could strut to warm B.O. with major marketing coin and a campaign principally targeting female auds. Film hits British runways Oct. 7, with Miramax releasing it Stateside early next year.
Reportedly inspired by a true story, film initially focuses on Charlie Price (Aussie thesp Joel Edgerton, with a flawless Midlands accent and mien), who inherits the Northampton family business when his dad (Robert Hugh) drops dead. But making men's classic brogues is the last thing Charlie and his whiney fiancee, Nicola (Jemima Rooper), want to do: He wants to study marketing down in London and she dreams of a new apartment there.
Charlie discovers the fusty factory is on the verge of bankruptcy, and is forced to pink slip 15 of the firm's loyal employees. However, one of them, Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts, good), suggests that Charlie should start a new product line instead of just firing people -- a remark that waters a seed in Charlie's mind. He takes her down south to check out a drag act in London's Soho district.
Film takes a while to find its feet as the script untidily shuffles its protags back and forth between Northampton and London. In the first of several unbelievable plot contrivances, a drunken Charlie had tried, on an earlier trip to London, to rescue "Lola" (Ejiofor), from being beaten up in a back alley; he later discovered Lola did a drag act at a small club.
While the script clears its throat and maneuvers its characters into position, some momentum is maintained by a couple of glitzy cabaret numbers (including, natch, "Whatever Lola Wants"). Ejiofor, seemingly channeling British comedian Lenny Henry in his self-deprecating humor, makes a fine figure of a muscular woman, with a hunky voice to match. Thesp does all his own singing and brings a swagger to the part that signals the role isn't going to stray into any threatening areas for straight auds. (For starters, the whole issue of Lola's sexuality is barely broached.)
Film finally gets under way when Lola, who's agreed to design the boots but stay clear of Northampton, turns up (for no good reason) on Charlie's doorstep in full drag. Agreeing to stay on for five weeks (again, sans motivation) to help Charlie's people get the new line ready for a Milan fashion show (don't even ask), Lola makes everyone confront their prejudices as well as confronting a few insecurities of his own.
Though the movie scoots over the script's potholes with a breezy indifference, they do weaken the structure in the long run. It's difficult to become fully engaged in the friendship between Charlie and Lola as there's no possible reason why they should even be in the same town, let alone working together. And though Geoff Deane and Tim Firth's script toys with the idea of "what it is to be a man," it never strays far into such murky waters.
Still, the picture never drags. Full complement of standard subplots includes plenty of character color from the femme workforce. Switch to Milan in the final reels gives pic a visual boost, and an upbeat coda, set to "Yes Sir I Can Boogie," delivers the full monty.
Production values are high throughout, with working-class life in Northampton never looking so good, given the Miramax sheen. Widescreen photography by Eigil Bryld is rich-toned and well composed, and Adrian Johnston's score smoothly decorates the whole cake.
Camera (Technicolor prints, widescreen), Eigil Bryld; editor, Emma E. Hickox; music, Adrian Johnston; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; production designer, Alan Macdonald; art director, Phillip Elton; costume designer, Sammy Sheldon; hair/makeup designer, Trefor Proud; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS Digital), Paul Davies, Tim Alban, Richard Davey; choreographer, Les Child; assistant director, Josh Robertson, casting, Gail Stevens. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (Gala), Aug. 21, 2005. Running time: 106 MIN.