One might experience an extreme sense of d?j? vu while watching New Line Cinema’s “Take the Lead,” as it seems to be a mixture of “Dangerous Minds,” “Save the Last Dance,” “Coach Carter” and “Dead Poets Society,” with a dash of “Welcome Back Kotter” and “The White Shadow” thrown in.
In her newest film, director Liz Friedlander adds yet another installment to the old, tried and true genre of inspirational dramas. However, the results are not as inspirational.
“Take the Lead” is based on the true story of Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), a successful ballroom dance instructor in Manhattan. One thing leads to another, and he decides to teach ballroom dance to a group of local inner-city high school students everyone else has given up on. Along the way, he must sway the school’s stern principal (Alfre Woodard, “Desperate Housewives”) and his own hardened, streetwise students.
Most of the students are making their debut film roles, most notably Lahrette, (YaYa DaCosta, “America’s Next Top Model”) and Caitlin (Lauren Collins, “I was a 6th Grade Alien”). As in most films of this type, Dulaine must overcome all the obstacles he faces, plus teach the students to dance in time for the students to participate in a large ballroom dance competition that the entire city of Manhattan will be watching.
The only strength of this movie lies in its soundtrack; most of it is rap and hip-hop. The movie also boasts an impressive array of classic standards from the likes of such renowned composers as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin to accompany the many ballroom dancing scenes. The funniest scene of the movie is based around the soundtrack, when Dulaine finally gets the students to dance using a torture technique involving the music of the Gershwin brothers.
Without a doubt, the strongest performance in the movie is given by Banderas; however the role of the rebellious teacher is nothing that Robin Williams, Michelle Pfeifer, Samuel L. Jackson and even Gabe Kaplan haven’t all done before him. However, he is more than competent with the ballroom dancing scenes and seems the ideal man to dance the tango.
Despite Banderas’ strength, the same can’t be said about the students’ characters. They all fit into the stereotypes that run amok in most teen movies: there’s the white guy who wants to be black, the sassy fat girl, the dimwitted fat guy, the misunderstood girl who yearns for more than she has and the jock with a heart. While the characters have funny lines, most dealing with sex and an extreme aversion to any music other than rap, that’s their only role in the movie: comedic set decoration.
Don’t expect anything of the ending, or lack thereof. It seems as though either the production ran out of money while shooting, or far more likely, the screenwriter simply ran out of ideas. It provides absolutely no closure whatsoever to the dozens of plot lines the film attempts to carry throughout its two-hour duration. With the exception of a tiny epilogue, the ending leaves the audience with more questions than answers.
“Take the Lead” is a movie perfectly placed in the April doldrums, the burial place for movies not good enough to make it in the popular summer months. Next month’s long-awaited movies such as “DaVinci Code” and “Mission Impossible III” will hit theaters, so save your $10 and skip this one.
“Take the Lead” stumbles into theaters Friday, April 7.
This article appeared in the April 6, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.