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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.41%
Worth A Look: 21.62%
Just Average54.05%
Pretty Crappy: 16.22%
Sucks: 2.7%

5 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Take the Lead
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Yeah, I liked it--wanna make something of it?"
4 stars

By all practical critical standards, I should be roasting “Take the Lead” over the coals at this time. After all, it tells a story that is essentially what “The Blackboard Jungle” would have been like as conceived by Paula Abdul, it veers between moments of awkwardly staged melodrama and extended dance sequences in which a group of way-too-old-for-high-schoolers break out in highly choreographed “spontaneous” moves and if there is a scene in it that doesn’t contain at least a couple of time-honored cliches, I must have somehow missed it. And yet, the film has been made with such good cheer that I didn’t really mind the fact that I had seen all of it a hundred times before.

“Inspired by a true story” (which we can presume to mean that virtually everything we see has been made up), the film stars Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine, a successful former professional ballroom dancer who now teaches his craft to rich New York swells. Coming home from an event one evening, he comes across Rock (Rob Brown), an especially troubled student from an especially troubled inner-city high school, as he is trashing the car belonging to his principal (Alfree Woodard) in a fit of stupid rage. The next day, Pierre arrives at the school and makes the principal a strange offer–he will come to the school and teach dance in an effort to get through to them and put them on the straight and narrow. The more practical-minded principal, who keeps a collection of photos of her dead students on her office wall as a reminder, thinks that he is nuts. However, she is also in need of someone to handle the detention hall for a group of misfits that even she calls “the school’s rejects” and takes him up on his offer, even though she bets him five bucks that he won’t last one day. (In case this sounds a little familiar, Dulaine helped develop the school dance program later chronicled in last year’s popular documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom.”)

With a set-up like that, it shouldn’t be hard for you to figure out what happens next. Do the kids initially reject Pierre, his overly polite manner and his old-fashioned taste in music and dance, only to eventually respond to all of them? Do the kids all have individual personal problems that Pierre eventually becomes involved in? Will there be a conflict between the uptown swells and the downtown kids when they are thrown together one day? Will Rock turn out to be a good kid trying to overcome his murky past who finds himself drifting into serious trouble in order to make some money? Will there be a star-crossed couple in the class who initially hate each other (not without good reason) who learn to put their differences aside? Will there be a rich-but-awkward wallflower (Lauren Collins) who blossoms when she convinces Pierre to let her practice with the tough kids in preparation for her upcoming cotillion? Will virtually all of these problems be solved on the night of the big citywide dance contest just before a final number that suggests what “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” might have been like as written by socialists? I leave you to discover the answers to all of these questions for yourself.

Okay, so the film is corny to the extreme but to quote one of Pierre’s students after he begins to break through to them, “It’s corny but it’s cool.” Director Liz Friedlander, a music-video veteran making her feature debut, attacks the familiar material with a lot of style and flair and, perhaps more importantly, knows how to shoot dance numbers in a manner more cinematic than the plant-the-camera-and-shoot approach used by such recent musicals as “Rent” and “The Producers.” She also has been happily blessed with a group of young, vaguely familiar actors (Brown was in “Finding Forrester,” Collins appears on “DeGrassi: the Next Generation” and co-stars Yaya DeCosta and Jenna Dewan appeared, respectively, in the redoubtable likes of “America’s Next Top Model” and the goofy cult horror film “Tamara”) who go about their potentially stereotypical roles with a lot of energy and enthusiasm as well as some nice footwork. (Dewan gets a tango number at the end so goofily entertaining that it almost makes you wish that more musicals were being made so that her talents as a dancer could be exploited further.) The most entertaining aspect of the film, though, is the lead performance by Antonio Banderas as Dulaine. As charming and relaxed as he has ever been on screen, Banderas simply owns the screen whenever he appears with a funny and charismatic performances that not even the biggest churls in the audience will be able to resist. Thanks to their efforts, Banderas and company keep the film more or less on track even when its flaws (especially the climax in which too many subplots wind up converging at once) threaten to derail it for good.

“Take the Lead” is no masterpiece and it is the kind of film that will begin to evaporate from the mind only a few minutes after it ends. However, it is a modest and efficient little film that only wants to provide viewers with two hours of mindless cheeseball entertainment and it succeeds. Against all expectations, I found myself responding to its charms and if you are able to look beyond its overly familiar trappings, I think that a lot of you will feel the same way. It may be a load but it is, as we say in the business, a good load.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14220&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/07/06 00:24:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/05/07 phvvpis girdbheaul 3 stars
5/13/07 fools♫gold Atributeto thethousandsof dance films after "Dirty Dancing", andincludesgoodhumor. 4/5 or.. 5 stars
6/22/06 captain craig the director missed alot of powerful opportunities, but it worked for me 4 stars
4/25/06 Pamela did get me worked up about dancing ballroom again, but was a little corny 3 stars
4/10/06 Bert Kaplan Hoaky at times,but generally fun to watch 4 stars
4/09/06 * Whoever thinks that this movie sucks, is stupid! It is one of the greatest movies ever! 5 stars
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  07-Apr-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Aug-2006



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Liz Friedlander

Written by
  Dianne Houston

  Antonio Banderas
  Alfre Woodard
  Dante Basco
  Lyriq Bent
  Rob Brown
  Ray Liotta

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