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TAKE THE LEAD
U.S. Release Date: April 7, 2006
Distributor: New Line
Composer: Aaron Zigman
Cast: Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard
Running Time: 1 hour and 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (thematic material, language and some violence)

Banderas Strengthens Hip-Hop Ballroom Drama
by Scott Holleran

Suave Antonio Banderas and sassy Alfre Woodard boost the clichéd inner-city dance movie Take the Lead, but this one barely cuts the rug. Choppy direction and too many subplots scratch this otherwise appealing showcase. As far as the music and dancing are concerned, don't expect much; good pop standards are deployed sparingly, it's sad to say, and, dancing is suggested more than it's depicted.

Banderas plays a well-mannered, widowed ballroom dance teacher who happens to come across a thug (Rob Brown) smashing the high school principal's car one night. By the next day, he's proposing a radical idea to the principal (haughty Woodard in the juiciest role), without snitching on the kid: teach the kids in detention to dance. Woodard's hardened New York public school bureaucrat takes him up on the offer for kicks.

Of course, the rest should be easy but, while Dianne Houston's script develops an inviting theme about dance as a means of achieving self-reliance—and getting into the groove with the opposite sex—it gets lost in the mix. When Banderas, invoking "please" and "thank you" to the practically parentless youngsters, lets loose that Spanish purr, seeing "a room full of choices, not rejects," the hip-hop high school funky bunch are properly mesmerized. Throw in the prospect of a $5,000 contest prize and the kids—it's never clear why they're in detention—are up and learning to do the fox trot.

Unfortunately, music video director Liz Friedlander can't sit still, jumping around like she's playing a video game, interspersing disparate subplots. Students are distinguishable, but their stories do not breathe, let alone merge. Major new plot points come an hour into the movie. Characters are spread too thin. The high school's basement detention center becomes less of a place and more of a soundstage.

Banderas shines when he's giving dance instruction—he hustles a parent/teacher conference with his usual confidence and charm—and the dancing is fair when it can be, though the cuts are too fast to get a fix on a full body in motion. A number of subplots, including a group of rival dancers, romantic entanglements and a downtrodden soap opera, bog it down. A dance competition fizzles in a slow-motion hip-hop fantasy that mocks ballroom dancing.

With characters to care about—despite the usual claptrap that white people are only good when they embrace hip-hop subculture—and charismatic turns by Banderas and Woodard, Take the Lead at least takes itself somewhere, if briefly and in short spurts.


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