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TAKE THE LEAD (PG-13) (2006)

New Line Cinema

Official Site

Director: Liz Friedlander

Producers: Christopher Godsick, Michelle Grace, Diane Nabatoff

Written by: Dianne Houston

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Alfre Woodard, John Ortiz, Laura Denante, Dante Basco, Jenna Dewan, Marcus T. Paulk


So, you knew it was coming, right? Just as Spellbound (the engrossing and Oscar-nominated 2002 doc, not the classic ’45 Hitchcock noir) provided the requisite degree of viability to garner the green light for such sesquipedalian-themed projects as Bee Season and Akeelah And The Bee, so too has the celebrated Mad Hot Ballroom kicked the door wide-ass open for the Antonio-Banderas-as-Whoopi-Goldberg/Michelle-Pfeiffer/Edward-James-Olmos dancer flick Take The Lead. (The vast, almost disturbingly rabid following commandeered by the recent Fox experiment “Dancing with the Stars” didn’t hurt too much, either.)

The plot you can more or less pick up from the trailers: Banderas is Pierre Dulaine, an ex-pro dancer who, through an unorthodox series of events, comes to teach a ballroom dancing class to a plucky group of “at-risk youth” in inner-city New York and, wonder of wonders, ends up instilling in them more than just foxtrot familiarity, while learning valuable lessons from them in the process. Ka-blammo! Box office gold!

But really, I’ve got no business being that sarcastic about this picture. For all its predictability, it does pack a couple of surprises. Surprise no. 1: It’s based on a true story. Surprise no. 2: I genuinely liked and enjoyed it. What can I say? Under the right circumstances, I’m a sucker for a by-the-numbers inspirational tale.

(But I’m still a tough guy. Just so you know.)

(Just today, in fact, I spurned “sensitive skin” Barbasol for the far more rugged “original.” So I’ve got a little pansy credit stored up.)

After witnessing troubled youth Rock (Finding Forrester’s Rob Brown, whom I like more and more) trash his high school principal’s car on a dare from some bad dudes, Dulaine ends up in the administratrix’s office, with a mind to tell her whodunit. By the time he walks out, however, he’s committed to taking over a detention-monitor position none of the faculty wanted to touch. Detention period, of course, quickly turns into dance class. Following the mandatory preliminary handful of fruitless attempts, Dulaine finally gets the kids to listen up, and gradually convinces them that they’ve got the talent to compete in a prestigious citywide competition, employing their unique and fledgling brand of hip-hop/ballroom fusion.

Banderas is fine—eminently likable, dashing, swoon-inspiring, all that—and he gets a chance to be funny, which I always enjoy from him. (He’s also playing an eminently classy, well-mannered gentleman; like the dude needs any sort of edge in the ladykiller department. Sheesh.) The good-in-everything Alfre Woodard is a hoot in a supporting role as the prickly, hard-assed principal, while romantic leads Brown and Yaya DaCosta (a former runner-up on “America’s Next Top Model” who exhibits significant chops, especially for a catwalk import) carry their parts well in what is a surprising satisfying love story. And Marcus T. Paulk gets more than his share of belly-laughs as a lippy would-be waltzer.

For the first half hour or so, Take The Lead manages to be pretty fresh, smart, funny… good, in a word. And there are a few more commendable laughs and moments littered throughout. (Plus: Dante Basco, a.k.a. Rufio, Rufio, Ru-fi-ooo!) Once the plot machinations start, though (there are plenty, and you’ll certainly see them coming), things settle into a disappointingly familiar rubric. Which is to be expected, of course; I guess I just hoped they’d tweak it a little. But they don’t. All the same, it’s a good time, and you root for the onscreen folks, even if you can periodically spout out their next line before they do. Thing with me is, I’m a sucker for that whole airy vein of “talented kids aiming at a longshot” pictures, no matter how much, as a critic, I’m supposedly enjoined to name them execrable. To this day, if I’m flipping channels and Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit is on, I’ll tarry, and more than likely lose at least 45 minutes at its hands. Take The Lead almost isn’t bad enough to fall into “guilty pleasure” territory. But it is. If you’re a soft-touch alpha male like me, or a chick, feel free to check it out.

I, for one, won’t pick on you.

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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