C-

Kinky Boots

Though inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots seems to take place in an alternate universe in which AIDS, Stonewall, the gay-rights movement, Benny Hill, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy never happened, and the mere presence of an affable black man dressed as a woman is enough to scandalize a British industrial town. The film is also regressive both in its depiction of a drag-queen character (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as a noble, asexual, vaguely tragic secular saint in stilettos, and in its need to deliver a message of tolerance for black drag queens almost exclusively through the story of a bland white heterosexual male. The irony is that an audience raised on Absolutely Fabulous and Will & Grace is likely to be far more progressive in its attitudes toward sexuality and gender fluidity than this film, which seems stuck in a meek mid-'80s conception of open-mindedness.

A sluggishly paced fusion of ham-fisted sermonizing and Full Monty-style working-class zaniness, the film casts the charisma-impaired Joel Edgerton as a businessman who reluctantly takes over his father's struggling shoe business following his death. Looking for a way to keep the company afloat and stave off further layoffs, the mild-mannered Edgerton hits upon the bright idea of making sexy boots to fit the unique needs and dimensions of male transvestites. But are Edgerton's convention-minded working-class employees ready for the incredibly mild sexual threat posed by drag-queen-turned-shoe-designer Ejiofor?

Drag queens are people too, Kinky Boots limply, earnestly pleads. Most viewers will respond, "Yes. And?" But there is no "and" to Kinky Boots. It simply makes its point, makes it again in case audiences weren't paying attention, and then expects to be applauded for its bravery. Message movies ideally help influence the cultural climate into which they're released, but Kinky Boots doesn't seem to realize that its time came and went long, long ago.

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