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The Full Monty
Back to Basics: Robert Carlyle prepares to take it off, all off, in the new comedy 'The Full Monty.'

Stripping for action in 'Full Monty'

By Richard von Busack

THAT OLD HIT SONG BY XTC "(We're Only) Making Plans for Nigel" has the poor young title character pressured into a boring career: "His future is as good as sealed ... he has a future at British Steel." Nigel's future probably didn't last long, since much of British Steel went the way of all flesh, in a wave of layoffs and plant closures. Peter Cattaneo's obscurely titled The Full Monty is set in Sheffield, Yorkshire, once a steel-making city and now a depressed quiet town in which former steelworkers haunt the unemployment offices. But The Full Monty is primarily a comedy--a version of The Seven Samurai, if the Kurosawa classic had been about male strippers instead of warriors.

The hapless Gaz (Robert Carlyle) is an unemployed divorced dad. He's walking his kid back to his ex-wife's house when he encounters a matinee performance of the Chippendale dancers at a nearby pub. Seeing the huge crowd of raucous women gives Gaz a crackpot idea, and he decides to form his own troop of male exotic dancers from the men he knows. Dave (Mark Addy) has a physique that's the worst for wear from lager and chips, and Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) is middle-aged and has white sideburns. The three recruit other dancers, including an aging West Indian named Mr. Horse and the well-endowed Guy (Hugo Speer). The amateur dancers practice in an abandoned steel mill, but they face big trouble from the police and their wives.

A witty cast makes The Full Monty often uproarious, an unlikely feel-good movie about sex work and mass unemployment. As usual, imported Northern England working-class movies carry a thick dialect (a typical line, from a character outraged at the idea of male strippers: "Some poof is waving his tackle at your missus!"). If director Cattaneo reaches for easy plot twists, easy sentiment and easy pathos along with the easy laughs, the film's likableness triumphs over everything. Carlyle is a prime light comedian, and Addy is the most accomplished fat-guy comedian in years. He wrings some huge laughs out of a lowly prop, a smug plaster garden gnome.

The Full Monty is based on nostalgia for the industrial life. There are even the obligatory quotes from Flashdance (the ex-steelworkers watch, trying to learn how to dance, but they also have to find fault with Jennifer Beals' lousy welding). In a sense, the characters here are learning from women in other ways--learning to adapt, to bend to change. Emasculated by unemployment, the ex-steelmen find their manhood again by stripping. This is a fantasy, of course, but by stripping off their old roles and old expectations of blue-collar work, they're at last able to get on with their lives after the closure of the steel mills.

The Fully Monty (R; 90 Min.), directed by Peter Cattaneo, written by Simon Beaufoy, photographed by John de Borman and starring Robert Carlyle.

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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