Take the Lead

Couldn't get enough of Mad Hot Ballroom?  Well, then Take the Lead is the film to watch.  The latter is a highly fictionalized version of the popular documentary.  It is a great story - teachers teach ballroom dancing to inner city children as a way to stay out of trouble.  The documentary was extremely popular with people of all ages, and the movie hopes to do the same.  It doesn't quite do so.  In trying to make the topic more cinematic, director Liz Friedlander and screenwriter Dianne Huston throw in every conceivable cliche dealing with inner city high school dramas, and the charismatic teacher who wants to come in and save the day.

Take the Lead of oftentimes corny and silly, but it still manages to work (to a degree).  Much of this is due to a magnetic performance by Antonio Banderas (The Legend of Zorro, Shrek 2), who plays Pierre Dulaine.  Dulaine teaches ballroom dance, and decides to volunteer his services to a local inner city high school.  The principle (Alfre Woodard, Something New, Beauty Shop) is aghast.  Who is this crazy man who wants to work with the worst students on campus?  The students are even more aghast.  Who is this psycho who is polite and wants to teach them how to ballroom dance?  The students are all a diverse group of rejects who know how to dance hip-hop, but none know any of the classic ballroom dances and have never heard of the classic singers (the Gershwins?  Okay.  Nat King Cole?  Less believable).  But an electrifying tango demonstration (that looks like sex standing up) changes their minds.

The movie traces a highly familiar path.  Dulaine tames the wildness of the "bad kids."  They even manage to get him to listen to them, combine their chocolate with his peanut butter.  Heck, there's even a huge ballroom dance contest at the end.  Although everything is inspirational, the story feels extremely fake.  The attitude on the teens is groan inducing, and none do a convincing job of looking like they are bad at dancing.  Friedlander has a history directing music videos which is very apparent here.  She moves the camera fluidly and cuts rapidly from one scene to the next.  It looks good when the kids are dancing hip-hop, but awful when they are waltzing.  It all culminates with an energetic but goofy dance-off reminiscent of Rize meets Strictly Ballroom.

And while Banderas manages to keep somewhat respectable.  The other actors do not, primarily because they are just walking stereotypes.  Rock (Rob Brown, Glory Road, Coach Carter) is getting closer to throwing his life away with crime, unless somebody, say, a fatherly figure with a Spanish accent, can save him.  He works to support his mother and perennially drunk father.  Lahrette (Yaya Dacosta) dislikes Rock because of history between their brothers.  Her mother is an, uh, woman of the night.  Eddie (Marcus Polk, Roll Bounce) has an attitude, but comes off better than Ramos (Dante Basco, Love Don't Cost a Thing, Biker Boyz), who is just annoying.  He has the hots for Sasha (Jenna Dewan, Tamara), who doesn't care for him.  They are all stock characters - flat an uninteresting.  Take the Lead spends too much time delving into their lives, and not enough on the dancing.

Haro Rates It: PG-13.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language, and some violence.

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