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In Movies & TV

"Take the Lead" treads over old ground


Here's a new one: the lives of a bunch of minority, delinquent high school students are suddenly changed when a teacher from the other side of the tracks shows up and believes in them.

You smell that? Well, it can't be "Take the Lead" because this film's high concept is too stale to even stink. In what feels like the umpteenth installment in a series of similarly harmless movies since "Dangerous Minds" in 1995, Antonio Banderas plays ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine.

After witnessing head delinquent Rock (Rob Brown) vandalizing the principal's car during a school dance from which he was banned, Pierre decides to show up at the school the next morning and see what's going on and return the principal her parking pass (which Rock meant to keep as a trophy but dropped when Pierre appeared in an entirely-too-creepy fashion).

Much to Pierre's dismay, the principal claims to understand the plight of students like Rock, but not what to do to help them. Rather than revealing Rock's identity, Pierre instead volunteers to help.

How?

"I want to teach them how to dance. Ballroom dance."

Of course you do, Pierre.

The principal practically implies that Pierre should get back to the ward before they notice he's missing, but then she has a change of heart. She grants him his wish, sort of, and appoints him as new detention hall monitor.

The rest is hardly worth reciting. The kids -- a colorful bunch of stock characters -- dismiss Pierre as a silly boy with a geezer's taste in music; ballroom dancing is for out-of-date suckers and flamboyant booty shaking and dry humping are the essential components of any real dancing.

Eventually, the kids warm up to Pierre after he dances the sexy tango with a scandalously sultry blonde from his private academy. Awed, one of the delinquents compliments his student, "I've never seen anyone move like that." To which she responds as snottily as possible, "Of course you haven't," thereby setting up the third act: the delinquents are going to challenge the yuppies in a ballroom dancing competition at the end of the month.

There's just one hurdle Pierre's yet to overcome: Rock. He's been sitting out this entire time, refusing to participate. But when Rock gets caught in school after-hours (he pays the janitor to sleep in the boiler room because his home is so rough), he calls Pierre to bail him out. They trade tales of hardship -- Pierre lost his wife a few years ago -- and viola: Rock's part of the team!

This is director Liz Friedlander's first feature film. She brings some flair to the well-choreographed dance sequences -- chalk that up to her extensive music video resume -- and the actors' performances are sufficient. But there's nothing new here. Wait for this one to come to video.

"Take the Lead," rated PG-13 for language and some violence, opens nationwide on Friday, April 7.


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Talkbacks

OMCreader | April 24, 2006 at 12:01 p.m. (report)

marilee garfield said: I saw "Take the Lead" yesterday and thought it was a fabulous movie! I think the reviewer was callous and jaded, and I really wonder how someone so "sophisticated" can enjoy life in the day-to-day. Antonio Bandaras was wonderful to look at (he alone is worth the price of admission) -- but equally, this "so stale it doesn't even stink" movie made my fellow theatre-goers cheer in their seats. The dance numbers were original and entertaining; the subplots, while clearly seen before in myriad plays, movies, literature, still worked to bring a tear to the eye. In sum, the reviewer needs to get down off his high horse and realize that movies don't have to be totally "new" conceptually to be entertaining -- and inspiring, to boot.

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