Take the Lead
So, ballroom dancing is a way to teach derelict kids valuable life lessons, eh? Please. Maybe they should have titled the hackneyed Take the Lead something like Stand and Dance or Shall We Dance...in Detention?
Like the many standard teacher-mentor stories before it, Lead follows the same basic principals. It focuses on Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), a Manhattan dance teacher and competitor who volunteers his time to teach ballroom dancing to New York inner-city high school students serving detention. It's never really explained why he wants to do this--maybe he's just crazy that way. But through his determination, the reluctant teenagers are soon waltzing and doing the tango all over the room. They even take it one step further and combine Dulaine's classical dance with their unique hip-hop style and music to create a high-energy, unique fusion, honing their craft for a prestigious city ballroom competition (and some of them win, too!) And through it all, Dulaine inspires these street kids to learn about pride, respect and honor. Pardon me while I gag for a moment.
Banderas does what he can with the syrupy role but tends to look uncomfortable with some of the line readings. Thankfully, he's got the moves. One of the better scenes is Dulaine dancing the tango with a hot blonde--to prove to the unbelieving teens how hip classical dancing can be. And after watching them slide all over the floor, they get the picture. The urban kids are all pretty standard, with Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) leading the pack as a troubled youth, trying not to get involved with drug dealing but heading that way anyway. His love interest, played by Yaya DaCosta, also has her share of family strife. But as far as the best dancing is concerned, hats off goes to Jenna Dewan, Dante Basco and Marcus T. Paulk, who all perform one heck of a steamy tango number. Alfre Woodard even makes an appearance as the school's hardened principal, who's softened by Dulaine's earnestness. How typical.
Who would have thought ballroom dancing would be so popular these days? For awhile, there was just one movie about it: the wonderfully quirky Strictly Ballroom. But then came the Richard Gere/Jennifer Lopez starrer Shall We Dance? (Americanized from a Japanese original) and last year's stellar documentary Mad Hot Ballroom about street kids learning to dance. Now we've got Take the Lead, which is also based on a true story about Dulaine and his efforts to introduce culture to inner-city kids. Sure, ballroom dancing is fun to watch, especially mixed with cool hip-hop moves. And, in the hands of veteran music video and commercial director Liz Friedlander, those dance scenes clearly stand out. Yet the fact Lead is Friedlanderr feature film debut, it's also clear she doesn't have the skills to go beyond the cliché. They probably think they can away with a done-to-death story if the dancing pops. They're mistaken.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.