'Monty' takeoff on unemployment Review: 'The Full Monty' presents a body of evidence that steelworkers can be entertaining.

September 12, 1997|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

In the film "Brassed Off," unemployed British miners rediscover their self-respect by playing in a championship brass band. In "The Full Monty," unemployed British steelworkers turn to a more revealing form of entertainment. They become strippers.

Therapeutic stripping? Psychologists may not endorse it, but the beleaguered men of "The Full Monty" are only able to cover themselves in dignity once they have shorn themselves of shirts and pants and -- yes -- scarlet G-strings.

This has been a rough season at the movies for the Yorkshire laboring classes.

Both Mark Herman's moving "Brassed Off" and Peter Cattaneo's slighter and lighter "The Full Monty" muck about in the same psychological terrain: the self-lacerating humiliation of workers who have lost their jobs.

While remaining consistently good-humored, "Monty" appreciates that for working men, jobs anchor egos. When the jobs go, so do their bearings, their senses of themselves. Not only can't they be steelworkers anymore, but on some level, they can't be fathers or husbands or lovers, either. In "Monty," they literally and figuratively become impotent.

It's up to a most unlikely Moses to lead them back to manhood. Robert Carlyle, the psychopath in "Trainspotting," is a string bean, a one-time steelworker, who has such a severe case of arrested development that he is even an embarrassment to his young son Nathan (William Snape). But his recklessness is precisely what is needed in sodden old Sheffield. Recovery won't come without risks, and what's more risky than to take off your clothes in front of a hall full of women?

Gaz (Carlyle) gets this brainstorm when he stumbles upon the Chippendales performing in front of scores of Sheffield women who are writhing in delight. What he sees piques both Gaz's sense of civic pride and his entrepreneurial spirit.

Why should some outsider get paid for "waving his tackle" at a crowd of women when he and his buddies could be doing the same?

But Gaz realizes that if he's going to compete with professional strippers, he's going to have to get a competitive advantage. His boys, he figures, will have to take off everything. They'll have to do "the full monty."

Somehow, Gaz manages to enlist accomplices in this enterprise, although few of them would appear to have ever seen the inside of a gym. "Full Monty's" most incisive comedy concerns the physical self-image of men. By now, we are used to women obsessing about their bodies; "Monty" turns the tables to hilarious effect.

The men of "Full Monty" are painfully aware that they fall short of the Grecian ideal. They are variously fleshy, bulbous, cave-chested and stringy. One of them, Gaz's best friend Dave (Mark Addy), is so embarrassed about his sagging belly that he won't even undress in front of his wife.

None of the other members of the troupe is exactly Arnold Schwarzenegger either. There's Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), who's so humiliated about being out of work that six months later, he hasn't told his wife that he was laid off. Because Gerald knows how to ballroom dance, Gaz figures he's the perfect person (or at least the only available one) to train the boys in striptease.

Lomper (Steve Huison) is a pasty redhead who is half-heartedly committed to killing himself until he signs on with Gaz. Horse (Paul Barber) is an older black man who dances very well for someone who can't bend at the joints anymore. Finally, there's Guy (Hugo Speer), the group's only classically sculpted stripper, whose attempt to mimic Donald O'Connor's dancing up a wall leads to the film's funniest bit of slapstick.

"Monty's" screenplay, by Simon Beaufoy, is bawdy, which you'd expect, but manages to stay on this side of vulgarity. The film is playful and lighthearted with a cleverness that often takes you by surprise. To learn some steps, the guys study a video of "Flashdance," which is also about a dancing steelworker, played by Jennifer Beals. Unfortunately, her dancing is lost on Dave, who can't get beyond her lousy welding technique.

"The Full Monty" isn't nearly as sentimental as "Brassed Off." It's not as emotionally satisfying, either. But "Monty" is ceaselessly amiable, moving whimsically toward an ending that, while predictable, is a rousing, unfettered joy.

'The Full Monty'

Starring Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Addy

Directed by Peter Cattaneo TC Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R (profanity, partial nudity)

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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