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'Full Monty' Takes Off

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Aug. 29, 1997

Here it is, both the defining moment in "The Full Monty" and the movie’s biggest laugh. And don’t worry, it’s still funny, even if you know what’s coming.

We’re in an unemployment office in Sheffield, a northern English city that used to be a steel boom town. But 20 years after the boom, modernization has forced thousands into joblessness. As lines of grim, tight-lipped men wait for their government checks, a song comes over the radio. It’s Donna Summer’s "Hot Stuff," a dance hit from the disco era.

Five men standing in line begin to tap their toes, almost imperceptibly. When the song hits a high point, they thrust their pelvises forward with choreographed precision. What makes this even funnier is the sight of Dave (Mark Addy), an endearingly pudgy guy, clenching his fists and pumping that body.

The explanation: These former steelworkers, led by the aggressive but essentially good-hearted Gaz (Robert Carlyle), have embarked on a crazy quest to make money -- or "brass," as they would call it. Women are paying good money to see muscular male strippers waving their "tackle" around (as Gaz puts it) at a local club. Sounds like easy money to Gaz, who gradually persuades his mates to doff their "kit" and dance.

These guys are low on money and self-respect. Gaz is a sweet-natured, but deadbeat, dad who’s fighting his ex-wife for the right to hang with his son (William Snape). Dave has recently suffered a bout of impotence with his wife. And their ex-foreman, Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), has been hiding his joblessness from his wife, who’s blithely running up credit card charges. They’re dead broke, they’re desperate, they’re ready to strip.

The trouble is, Gaz and company are hardly Statue of David material. Gaz is scrawny, has no rhythm, and won’t take that burning cigarette out of his mouth. Dave’s a blob, plain and simple. Two of them are old geezers. Lomper (Steve Huison), a gloomy redhead Dave just saved from a suicide attempt, isn’t exactly John Travolta. And Guy (Hugo Speer) has no apparent skills, only a willingness to strut his considerable stuff.

But they do have a collection of great dance hits from the past. And Horse (Paul Barber), one of the old ones, remembers how to do the funky chicken, the bump and the bus stop. Gerald, the other geezer, actually teaches ballroom dancing. After multiple viewings of the movie "Flashdance," they go for it.

But keeping things secret from this tightknit community is virtually impossible. So is their ultimate game plan -- to beat the muscular competition by doing "the full monty," i.e. taking everything off.

The social backdrop -- the effects of unemployment on the working-class soul, blah blah blah -- may seem a bit tired. But the movie, written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Peter Cattaneo, takes off on its central premise: What if a bunch of regular, dumpy, blue-collar guys were forced to redefine themselves as boy toys?

Beaufoy and Cattaneo handle this potentially racy material with an engaging balance of good taste and outright slapstick. At one point, when the guys can’t coordinate their opening routine, Horse points out how the step -- which involves raising their arms in the air -- resembles a soccer strategy known as "the offside trap." That makes perfect sense to everyone. Their next attempt is flawless.

Carlyle, who was so outstanding as the sociopathic Begbie in "Trainspotting," turns on the charm this time; and Wilkinson is quite touching as a man faced with the loss of dignity in his mature years. Last but not least is the music, which sounds even better the second time around. While you’re laughing, these pounding songs from Gary Glitter, Sister Sledge, Tom Jones and Hot Chocolate make you want to dance, too.

THE FULL MONTY (R) — Contains nudity and profanity.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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