Bootmen is a cinematic imagining of the origins of Tap Dogs, a dance spectacle which originated in Australia and has since swept the world with its cadre of ultra-butch guys doing their weighty stuff in work boots with metal taps nailed to their soles. Sean Okden (Adam Garcia) is determined to escape the drudgery of work in a Newcastle steel plant by virtue of his terpsichorean skill. His dreams are mocked by his widowed father (Richard Carter) and most of the rowdy inhabitants of his town. Even his romance with a hairdresser (Sophie Lee) runs aground when she takes up with his ne'er-do-well brother (Sam Worthington). But Sean's drive wins the day and he stages a triumphant benefit performance for the steel mill, which has fallen on hard times.
Dein Perry, the dancer/choreographer who created Tap Dogs, is the director and, for a debut, Bootmen is surprisingly smooth. Indeed, too much so, as the helming is exorbitantly MTV-ish with its slick pacing, utter lack of depth and frequent, mindless outbursts of euphoria for mere euphoria's sake. Steve Worland's script doesn't help, as it's riddled with every clich of the musical genre since 42nd Street and before. There's the upstart protagonist's unquenchable spunk which lands him into various kinds of theatrical hot water; the crippled, crusty old dance guru; the rote addition of a sudden, sobering tragedy; some last-minute will-they-or-won't-they-make-it performance angst and attendant financial rug-pulling, and inevitably, the eventual reconciliation 'twixt estranged parent and child. (After Dance With Me, Billy Elliot and the like, can we please retire this one?) It's also determinedly heterosexual-one would barely know there's a gay person in the entire dance universe. These football-watching, beer-swilling, good-on-'ya mates almost make the roistering coal miners of the similarly plotted Billy Elliot seem like real poofters by comparison. (There's the briefest gay moment here that almost feels guiltily slipped in, as if in the hope that no one will notice.)
Perry shoots himself in the foot by frequently cutting away from the dancers' bodies to their faces, the audience, different camera angles, whatever. For a choreographer to willfully do this to himself in the dumbly commercial interests of filmic flash verges on absolute insanity. It's a shame for, while the dancing may not be everyone's cuppa, it does have more excitement and noisy invention than anything else in the film. (One dancer has a routine banging away at a row of metal toilets. We've come a long way from Fred Astaire who, it should be admitted, really started this type of thing with his shipboard, metallically punctuated 'Slap That Bass' number in Shall We Dance (1937).
Garcia is highly appealing, radiantly handsome and a charismatically lithe dancer. He doesn't really deserve Lee, an inept actress with her woebegone lollipop face. (Her impregnantion by Worthington is another of Worland's sorry inventions.) The other actors fill in the tiresome outlines of their roles, with Sean's corps of dancers a particularly undifferentiated, macho lot. It's nice to know, however, that so many Aussie steelworkers have such hidden Gene Kelly talent, as well as tap shoes ferreted away in their lockers.