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Take the Lead Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/08/2006

It’s probably because I’m such a bad dancer myself that I tend to not enjoy movies like Take the Lead.  In the millionth version of 1955’s The Blackboard Jungle, this movie tries to make dance the thing that turns around the lives of the “bad kids,” but since I can’t even master the Macarena, I think that this one will only appeal to kids with rhythm.

Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) is a classical dance instructor who runs a dance studio with his partner Tina (Laura Benanti.)  One night while riding his bike, he witnesses high school student Jason “Rock” Rockwell (Rob Brown) taking a golf club to the car owned by his principal Augustine James (Alfre Woodard), who was angry at her for her not letting him into a school dance party.  The crime gives Pierre an idea.  The next day, he goes to John Drake High School in New York City, the school that Augustine is the principal of, and offers his dancing services to her.  Since they have a hard time keeping a person in charge of the detention hall anyway, she takes Pierre up on his offer.  She thinks that Pierre will quit after the first day, and math club teacher Joe Temple (John Ortiz) think it’s a bad idea.  He meets the detention students, who include Rock and LaRhette Dudley (Yaya DaCosta), who doesn’t get along with Rock, since both of their brothers died on opposite sides of a gang war.  Pierre also meets the other colorful detention students.  The good-looking Sasha Keane (Jenna Dewan) is in a love triangle with Ramos (Dante Basco) and Danjou (Elijah Kelley), who are both vying for her attention.  Class clown Eddie (Marcus T. Paulk) can mysteriously get anything for the class, like sound equipment.  Kurd (Jonathan Malen) is the white kid who acts gangsta and wears braids in his hair.  He has a love/hate relationship with a big girl named…Big Girl (Shawand Mckenzie.)  Another big kid in the class is Monster (Brandon Andrews), who is anything but one.  The students dismiss Pierre because he wants them to ballroom dance to his “corny” music, but when he cranks it up loud, they give in.  They still aren’t interested after trying it, so Pierre gets the idea to appeal to their prurient interests by having one of his more proficient dance students from his dance studio, Morgan Fisher (Katya Virshilas), dance with him to show them how ballroom dancing can help their interest the opposite sex.  Morgan turns out to be a snobby girl who looks down on the lower-class students.  Another student from Pierre’s dance studio, Caitlin Spencer (Lauren Collins), is interested in joining Pierre’s detention students, because she feels more comfortable there than where she comes from.  She is shy and uncoordinated, and she hopes that this class will help her prepare for her upcoming cotillion dance.  As time goes by, the students start learning the different dance steps, and they update the music by mixing Pierre’s “old” music with hip-hop beats.  They prepare to compete in the 25th Annual Grand Ballroom Competition, but various things stand in their way.  Rock is in cahoots with a gangsta named Easy (Lyriq Bent) as well as dealing with his mom (Alison Sealy-Smith) and alcoholic dad (Phillip Jarrett), and LaRhette is dealing with her mother (Yvonne Myers), who is a prostitute that is whoring herself out to feed her crack habit.  If they can resolve these various problems in order to make it to the big dance competition, then the dance may save them from their miserable lives (which, I guess, is the message they are supposed to learn.)

Making her feature directorial debut, music video helmer Liz Friedlander manages at least to make the movie visually stylish.  She uses a script penned by Dianne Houston (in her theatrical writing debut) to inspire some kids to take up the art of classical dancing (Houston also penned the teleplay for the A&E TV movie “Knights of the South Bronx,” using the same story, but replacing dancing with chess and Banderas with Ted Danson.)  I haven’t seen the critically acclaimed 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom yet (which was the inspiration for this movie), but these two movies, combined with the success of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” may start a dance revolution.  Even the decent success of last year’s Rize may contribute to it (even though that movie mainly focused on krumping, and I didn’t even like the movie myself.)

Banderas does a credible job as Dulaine.  I think that many people assume that he is already a naturally gifted dancer, a la Patrick Swayze or John Travolta, but I can’t remember any movie that he has been in where he did an extensive amount of dancing.  The movie may bring in the crowds that were disappointed with last year’s The Legend of Zorro (even though I liked that movie…maybe this one needs more swordplay!)  DaCosta was not bad in her screen debut after competing on UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model 3.”  I’m pretty sure that we will be seeing more of her.

I’m afraid that the audiences are going to have to take the lead this time, because Take the Lead didn’t do it for me in whole.  I bet that this one will be a crowd pleaser (everyone that I’ve talked to at preview screenings liked it), but since dance isn’t my cup of tea, I won’t be joining in the party.

Get the soundtrack featuring songs by The Black Eyed Peas, Akon, Sly & the Family Stone, two songs by Jae Millz, and more:

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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