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The Independent Critic

Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard, Ray Liotta
Liz Friedlander
Dianne Houston
Rated PG-13
108 Mins.
New Line
 "Take the Lead" Review 
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Is anyone else tired of these "rescue the inner city kids" films?

Hmmmm. Let me think.

"Dangerous Minds"..."Music of the Heart"..."Stand and Deliver"..."Mad Hot Ballroom."

What do all these films have in common? They all feature disadvantaged, inner-city kids overcoming the odds thanks to the heartwarming, determined effort of a "fish-out-of-water" teacher.

In "Take the Lead," we get Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine, who finds himself brought into a Manhattan high school as a volunteer to work with troubled youths in detention. Pierre is an ex-ballroom dancer who currently runs a ballroom dancing school. He decides to reach the kids through dance, first ballroom and, in a show of respect to their culture, a combination of ballroom and hip-hop style urban dancing. Of course, he meets with considerable resistance. Gradually, over time he wins them over by constantly pulling them up to his level and refusing to buy into their preconceived notions of themselves as druggies, gangbangers, etc. As the youths begin to excel at dance, an all-city dance competition is held and, well, you basically know the rest of the story.

Banderas, surprisingly, is rather entertaining as Dulaine. Banderas' interpretation of Dulaine is one of firm compassion, focus, energy and strength. His performance plays much more sincerely than one would believe from watching the film's rather bland trailer. I found myself expecting a sort of campy quality to the film, but was pleasantly surprised to see Banderas offering one of his best performances in recent years.

"Take the Lead," however, does suffer from being the latest in a long line of similar films. Most notably, it has a strong similarity to last year's widely acclaimed documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom," though this film is considerably darker, edgier and fairly intense for a PG-13 rated film. Likewise, "Take the Lead" never really offers anything original. The direction, by music video director Liz Friedlander, is marvelous in energy and spirit but often emotionally distant and lacking in cohesiveness. The ending, in particular, lands with an almost uncomfortable thud that leaves too many loose ends untied and leaves you feeling like there's something missing.

Dianne Houston's script is fairly typical of her "rah rah" style of writing, as evidenced by previous works such as "Run for the Dream: The Gail Devers Story" and "Knights of the South Bronx." The script is rather formulaic, but the dialogue authentic and natural.

"Take the Lead" is blessed with strong supporting performances from the likes of Alfre Woodard and Ray Liotta, adding a definite depth to a film that all too often seems to be skimming the surface.

The young actors generally serve the the film well, and the dance scenes are beautifully choreographed with particularly strong editing that helps to enhance the excitement of the action.

Based upon a true story, "Take the Lead" is a slightly above average film largely due to an unexpectedly heartwarming, inspired performance from Antonio Banderas and Friedlander's ability to direct the dance sequences in such a way that it's nearly impossible to not be entertained and inspired. Despite its formulaic script, lack of cohesion and remarkably disappointing ending, "Take the Lead" is likely to entertain those who can surrender to a simple, feel-good story about young people who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve their dreams.

Did you enjoy "Mad Hot Ballroom," "Stand and Deliver," "Dangerous Minds" and "Music of the Heart?" If so, then by all means take the lead and head on down to your local theatre to catch "Take the Lead!"

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic