An Australian surprise, "Strictly Ballroom" is sort of the "Rocky" of ballroom dancing, a rousing, toe-tapping and frequently very funny look at the passions of self-involved eccentric characters in a dance competition.

The story is hokey, predictable and full of movie cliches: A top-flight ballroom dancer (Paul Mercurio) gets creative and incorporates his own steps at a competition, which causes the stodgy folks in charge to go somewhat berserk. His dancing partner quits, his mother freaks out and his father sits quietly, hiding a long-silent secret about his own dancing past.

Soon, the frustrated Mercurio is approached by a beginner, a Plain Jane wallflower (Tara Morice) who has danced only with other girls up to this point. But she feels she can learn his maverick steps and that together they can surmount the controversy to win the upcoming national championships.

Mercurio is reluctant but soon they learn to work together and, of course, Morice gradually blossoms and becomes more attractive as the film progresses.

But there are obstacles along the way. So, they practice in secret to prevent his parents from discovering that he's still working on those forbidden dance steps. Then there's her father, who, at first, seems to be an abusive bully who won't let her out of the house.

The latter cliche, however, is turned on its ear as we learn that Morice's father has some dancing lessons of his own to teach (in a sequence that is one of the film's highlights).

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Toward the end, however, the conniving president of the dance federation forces the couple to split up, until the expected rousing finale when they are reunited.

"Strictly Ballroom" is cartoony and slightly wacky, an odd amalgam of different movie styles, embracing as many cornball movie traditions as it lampoons. But there's no denying that it's also an all-around crowd-pleaser, offering as much excitement and emotion as any movie in recent months.

"Strictly Ballroom" is rated PG for comic violence, a few profanities and some mild vulgarity and sexuality.