A pile of hooey served up with a side of bogus The Full Monty working-class pep, Kinky Boots also asks: How many clichés can a filmmaker pile into one character before audiences cry, “Enough”? The answer appears to be, the more the merrier.
And so Kinky Boots’ saucy London drag queen, Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is less recognizably human than a RuPaul-ed Green Mile-ish black savior of feckless white folks—in this case, setting straight the screwed-up life of po-faced shoemaker’s son Charlie (Joel Edgerton). Á la The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Lola’s sheer trannieness fills her with inhuman pluck and the usual sassy drag-queen wisdom regarding life, passion, and fashion. Taking a more cynical tip from what we can only assume caused the mind-bogglingly superior Breakfast on Pluto to make bupkis at the box office, Kinky hedges on not losing straight audience sympathy by having Lola avoid doing anything so unseemly as being actively, well, sexual. What makes this sexless cipher even moderately tolerable is Ejiofor.
How frickin’ charming and reasonable—two key ingredients in being seductive—is Ejiofor? Take a gander at his work in Joss Whedon’s Serenity, where his heartless assassin admits to killing women and children with such civilized, charismatic suavity that you could be forgiven for thinking, “Well, that’s a valid response.” In Kinky, Ejiofor brings that same quality to Lola, along with a glamour and sheer thereness that the movie doesn’t warrant.
Speaking of the movie he’s trapped in: After Charlie suffers the death of his dad, he must decide whether to somehow save the family business of making wingtips or move to London with his incredibly annoying yuppie girlfriend. Setting a new land-speed record for telegraphing a movie’s entire plot, Charlie promptly gets beat up trying to save Lola from some thugs, waking up to stare at her saucy, if poorly made, thigh-high slut boots.
With help from his lovably peppy co-worker Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts), Charlie decides that transsexual footgear is a terrific niche market, and before you can sing “La-la-la-la-Lola,” the factory is being retooled to render the featured drag queen’s footwear designs for an all-important Milan shoe show.
As though designed by a cabal of market-savvy Cylons after taking in a Robert McKee screenwriting course, and directed in similarly mechanical manner by Julian Jarrold, Kinky grinds through its designated plot points. We see Lola win a working-class lout’s respect, help Charlie redefine manhood, and teach the shoe-factory workers resilience.
What we don’t see is Lola, as a person with goals and desires of her own, some flashbacks to childhood memories of a scold father not withstanding. Considering what an oft-plumy sweat Ejiofor breaks, that’s kind of a drag.