Kinky Boots

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Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton. Rated PG. Opens Friday, April 21, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

Apparently, if you want to find the cutting edge of modern sexual mores, you need look no further than small-town England. Judging from The Full Monty, The Crying Game, and Calendar Girls, bangers and mash and teabagging it at 4 p.m. have taken on whole new meanings in a place where the simple folk happily drop their trousers at the slightest hint of a reason.

Actually, love, there's not much real carnality in any of these hit crossover films, and maybe even less in Kinky Boots, which is more about fun than fetish. Although it is a kind of progress to see the national motto modified to "No sex, please, we're British. But we do rather like to talk about it".

Here, the genial chatter happens when shaggy-haired Charlie (Joel Edgerton), the hapless son of a successful shoemaker, inherits his father's Northampton factory just as it becomes clear that few want sensible, English-made Oxfords when they can get disposable, cut-rate loafers made overseas. One niche market that won't skimp on quality, he discovers, is that of drag queens, who are too well aware that time wounds all heels.

This insight-about 200-pound men depending on flimsy women's gear-comes courtesy Lola, aka Simon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a London cabaret star whom Charlie meets on an otherwise disastrous trip to the capital. Next thing you know, the brassy performer has moved to the country to oversee the production of erotic footwear-a shift in production that just might save the collective bacon of the factory's working-class yobbos and crusty dames alike.

Anyone who has followed British comedies, from the Carry On series onward, knows exactly what will happen from the opening frames. And as soon as we meet Charlie's snooty, upwardly mobile girlfriend (Kellie Bright), we become certain that he'll be better off with the plain-but-spunky coworker (Linda Bassett) who puts her heart into the scheme.

Thanks to a pitch-perfect cast and the sure direction of TV veteran Julian Jarrold, from a script by Aussie Geoff Deane and Calender Girls writer Tim Firth, the movie's rather stock characters and situations come across as lively and fresh.

The screenplay is occasionally at odds with the treatment; it doesn't make sense that so many tough guys are taken in by Lola's artifice when Ejiofor-who is going to be one of the biggest stars of this decade-so masterfully plays the character as unashamedly masculine. There's a needless effort to give him/her a sad back story. And near the end, there is a pileup of coincidences and misunderstandings that no doubt differ greatly from the real-life events that "inspired" this story. No one ends up humping in the factory, exactly, but the movie does leave you feeling loved up.