“Take the Lead” dances to a familiar beat
You’ve seen this movie before. Oh, it might have been called “Lean on Me,” “Music of the Heart,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” or “Fame.” But it’s basically the same movie: Performing arts rescues inner city, troubled youths. “Take the Lead” is inspired (read: very, very loosely based upon) the true story of Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), the Manhattan dance instructor whose ballroom classes have been utilized in over 40 schools to foster the benefits of mentoring, discipline, and creativity.
And speaking of creativity, the film’s production team decides to upsize the kids from elementary to high school age, while inserting some racial tension and a romantic vibe or two. (The documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” was also based on Dulaine’s story, but used elementary school kids.)
“Take the Lead” is the kind of movie that could never please a majority of critics because they expect it to be more than it is. Dance enthusiasts may decry the short shrift that hard work and long, grueling rehearsal time gets in the students’ seemingly overnight conversion to master dancers. And those wanting more gritty realism from a film set in the asphalt jungle of New York City will probably diss the film’s feigned edginess.
But everyone who sees “Take the Lead” should agree on one thing: Banderas is perfectly cast as the smooth, smoldering, etiquette-obsessed teacher who puts the “go” in tango. He could probably get delinquents to dance like Napoleon Dynamite if they thought his Latin cool would rub off on them. One can’t help but watch the still youthful 46-year-old Banderas and wonder why he doesn’t get better parts in better films. Members of the talented supporting cast, which includes some fine dancers, do fairly well given the stock characters they are asked to portray.
“Take the Lead” mixes old-fashioned standards and hip-hop with mild success and the requisite competition finale lends some much-needed climactic energy. First-time director Liz Friedlander shows promise, but her success directing videos for artists like U2 and Blink 182 also explains her hyperactive jumpcuts– a nagging problem in many contemporary films. A movie about dancing shouldn’t be afraid to show off its dancers. Still, no matter whom he is partnered with, when Banderas is on screen he’s in control and on fire.
Rated Pg-13 for profanity, violence, and implied sexual content.