The Full Monty
Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Starring Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Hugo Speer, Paul Barber, Steve Huison. (1997, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Sept. 12, 1997
Bountiful laughs and a subtle dose of consciousness-raising coexist easily in Peter Cattaneo's comedy about laid-off English steelworkers whose financial desperation leads them to form a Chippendales-knockoff strip act. The title translates roughly to “full frontal nudity,” which is the hook these out-of-shape, rhythmically impaired males hope will inspire the womenfolk of Sheffield to show up for “Hot Steel”`s one-night-only gig. The ringleader of the group is Gaz (Carlyle, who played the hell-raising Begbie in Trainspotting), a divorced dad looking for a quick score to pay off his delinquent child support. The way he figures it, if a bunch of arse-wiggling “poofs” can drive women into frothing ecstasy and earn 10,000 pounds in a single night, why not a virile crew of steel-driving roughnecks straight outta the mills? As it turns out, the men of Hot Steel are far from cocky about how they'll look strutting around in red silk g-strings. Pudding-bellied Dave (Addy) is insecure about his weight and afraid his recent impotency will drive his wife to another man. Horse (Barber) lacks the anatomical bounty his nickname suggests and resorts in desperation to a mail-order enlargement device. Lomper (Huison) and Guy (Speer) both have the muscular definition of Gumbys -- though Guy at least fills out his bikini pouch impressively. As showtime nears, their performance anxiety grows geometrically, with some threatening to bail on their comrades and all recognizing for the first time how women must feel about having their bodies casually critiqued by men. Granted, this all sounds pretty broad, but the actual effect is far more tender and affecting than you'd expect. Once you've bought into the improbable premise, the particulars of the story -- the ridiculous early practices (a videotape of Flashdance serves as a technical reference), their children's embarrassment, the community's amusement and titillation -- all develop quite plausibly. This film bears some resemblance in setting and structure to the recent Brassed Off!, but any social-protest content in Cattaneo's movie is strictly implicit. He's much more interested in illuminating individual personality quirks than the pressing economic issues of the day. These modest ambitions, along with a generally predictable story, will keep the The Full Monty from ever attaining the critical regard of other English social comedies like I'm All Right, Jack, or even My Beautiful Laundrette. But by all means, see this movie anyway, because it's a rare comedy indeed that generates such a steady flow of hilarious scenes (including one in which the lads start unconsciously twitching and undulating to Donna Summer's “Hot Stuff” as they're standing in line to collect their dole) from such simple, sweet-natured premises. The Full Monty is feel-good comedy with none of the pejorative hints of innocuous blandness that term so often implies.