Take the Lead


(4/16/2006)

Take the Lead stars Antonio Banderas, who is easily the best thing in it. Known for being cool and suave, Banderas is every inch of that in this formula flick about a dance instructor who decides to help reform a bunch of tough New York City high school kids by teaching them the tango. And the waltz. And the foxtrot. Et cetera. The notion is, of course, incredible, as the people he proposes it to"”in particular the kids themselves"”clearly find it. The only problem is that the screenplay is based on a true story.

In fact, there is a documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, that covers this same material, though without the Romeo and Juliet love story and some of the comic relief of this fictionalized version. The film, like the current one, establishes that the program started in the New York schools by one Pierre Dulane has succeeded richly, so that 42 instructors and over 14,000 students have been touched by it.

Dulane (Banderas) gets the idea when biking home one night from an upscale ball. Witnessing an act of vandalism on the car of the school principal (Alfre Woodard), he presents his idea to her the next day. She sees the chance to get someone to take on the distasteful detention supervision job for free; he aims to teach the kids discipline and respect for each other and themselves. Although a math teacher (played by John Ortiz) registers an unlikely objection to the scheme, Dulane gets the go ahead.

The rest of the film chronicles the various obstacles Dulane and his students overcome on way to the big citywide dance contest and its five thousand dollar cash prize. His chief opposition among the kids is Ramos (Dante Basco), who voices the distrust of this seeming do-gooder that they naturally feel. Though he does get some help from the mouthy Eddie (Marcus T. Paulk) and a young private school student (Lauren Collins) who is as out of place as Pierre is, the instructor has to overcome the social snobbery outside the school and the racial tensions inside.

It's probably pointless"”and unnecessary"”to reveal the outcome of the Big Dance-Off, just as it would be to tell you how the Bad News Bears did in their Big Game. I liked Rob Brown and YaYa DaCosta as the young lovers who have to overcome their family histories, and various other elements of Take the Lead should appeal to the young audience at whom it clearly aims. Adults will be charmed by Banderas, who underplays the role deftly and, just as important, dances up a storm. It's appropriately rated "PG-13" for some mild violence and profanity, but director Liz Friedlander and screenwriter Dianne Houston have considerably dampened down the realism to get that rating.

 

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