Shaking Their Booty

IN A DRAB GOVERNMENTAL OFFICE in Yorkshire, rows of unemployed men stand dolefully in line when suddenly a radio begins to play Donna Summer's ""Hot Stuff.'' Almost imperceptibly one of the men begins to roll his shoulder to the beat, then another. A third traces dance steps with his feet, while a fourth, a fifth and a sixth suddenly succumb to the siren call of disco, momentarily transforming a bureaucratic hellhole with Wednesday Afternoon Fever.

The six men, whom we have come to know well by this midway point in The Full Monty, are a motley gaggle of out-of-shape, out-of-work steelworkers. Desperate for money and inspired by a visit to Sheffield by a Chippendales troupe of dancers, they have concocted the lunatic notion of putting on their own strip show, which they have been clumsily rehearsing in an abandoned warehouse. Studying tapes of ""Flashdance'' for inspiration (though highly critical of Jennifer Beals's welding) and battling their macho sense of shame as they stuff their variously scrawny, overweight and middle-aged bodies into G-strings, these beleaguered troupers are a wonderfully particularized group of Everymen, learning to survive in a world where all the rules have changed. In that enchantingly funny moment when they lose themselves to Donna's shake-your-booty rhythm, the audience knows that redemption is in sight. Get down tonight!

Something is afoot in the Zeitgeist when the two most crowd-pleasing imports of the season--this delightful British comedy and the sweet, more wistful ""Shall We Dance?'' from Japan--employ a dance floor to drag their reluctant, hidebound heroes into a new, more flexible concept of masculinity. In musicals, dancers are a strutting, extroverted breed, but for the solemn, officebound husband in Masayuki Suo's film and the put-upon working-class mates in Peter Cattaneo's movie, strutting your stuff in public is a fear-inducing, taboo-breaking leap into the unknown. What does it say that American audiences are responding so warmly to these fantasies, grounded in the embarrassment of male display? They strike a chord most Hollywood movies have neglected: our films are filled with Nautilusized young stars playing characters with egos as impregnable as their bodies.

The jobless men in ""The Full Monty'' (the title is Brit slang for ""showing all'') have nothing to fall back on and have egos easily bruised. The jaunty ringleader, Gaz (Robert Carlyle), is a divorced dad who'll lose visiting rights to his son if he can't come up with some cash. The pudgy Dave (Mark Addy) has become impotent. Lomper (Steve Huison) is shy and suicidal. The haughty Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), their ex-foreman, can't even tell his wife he's lost his job. Horse (Paul Barber) is considering penile enlargement to live up to his name, while Guy (Hugo Speer), the youngest, fittest and most exhibitionistic, has only his size to recommend him. Cattaneo, writer Simon Beaufoy and their terrific cast turn these guys into a most endearing dirty half dozen. ""The Full Monty'' finds both pathos and laughs in its farfetched conceit, avoiding the pitfalls of sappiness and shtik. Odds are good you'll exit grinning.