The Austin Chronicle

Take the Lead

Rated PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Liz Friedlander. Starring Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Danta Basco, John Ortiz, Alfre Woodward.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 7, 2006

There’s nothing particularly revelatory about Take the Lead, which mines the battle-tested Hollywood chestnut of urban youth who find salvation, inspiration, and, in this case at least, more than a little perspiration from the most unlikely of sources, an adult who actually gives a damn. This time out, it’s former guitar-slinging desperado and spy dad Banderas, whose character here, the suave ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine, is based on an actual person, which adds a layer of compelling grittiness to the already gritty proceedings. It’s Banderas’ film all the way, of course: He’s one of those genuinely gifted, glowing actors who can nevertheless hold your attention through sheer onscreen charisma. As Dulaine, Banderas volunteers to teach the proverbial worst-of-the-worst at a decrepit public high school in New York City the finer points of working the dance floor. To no one’s surprise, his inadvertent coupling of the foxtrot and bossa nova with the phat beats of puckish teen DJ Ramos (Basco) ends up saving the day and making the local cotillion crowd look positively staid by comparison. Is there the requisite battle-dance capping the third act? Yes, indeed, but it’s difficult to fault such a warm, bouncy, and, yes, occasionally funky genre stalwart such as this for being exactly what you’d expect. I’ll give it my best shot, though. Oddly, Banderas’ character suaves his way through director Friedlander’s smooth-as-silk film without so much as a single love interest, which makes you wonder what he does in his down time, or if he even has any, what with rescuing the youth of America from themselves and so forth. Banderas working solo is a stretch, to be sure, but he pulls it off with strutty aplomb, whipping his initially reluctant wards (who, to their eternal detriment, begin by dissing Gershwin) into a hybrid, multiracial band of brothers (and sisters) who reroute their hip-hop style and bad attitudes into something resembling Breakin’ 3, minus Boogaloo Shrimp. Take the Lead offers few if any surprises to anyone who’s seen either the aforementioned Breakin’, Beat Street, or, most obvious of all, Dangerous Minds. That said, I can think of far worse ways to introduce your offspring to the glory of the ballroom, backbeat or no.

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