Take The Lead

April, 2006, Drama

Directed by:Liz Friedlander

Starring:Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Alfre Woodard, Dante Basco, Jenna Dewan, Marcus T. Paulk, Lauren Collins, and Katya Virshilas

Antonio Banderas has come a long way; from the films of Spain's celebrated director Pedro Almodovar to Evita, to swashbuckling hero, (a pair of Zorro movies) to this fawningly reverential portrayal of Pierre Dulaine, the founder of the school-based ballroom dancing program for New York City's school kids documented in last year's Mad Hot Ballroom. Add the amazing success of the children's series Spy Kids, playing Poncho Villa for HBO and the post-Tarantino-ish bloodbath Once Upon a Time in Mexico and you have an actor/star whose credits contain just about everything the international film industry has to offer--a genuine tribute to remarkably shrewd choices and his dark good looks if not particularly notable skills as a thespian. 

Unabashedly ripping off Meryl Streep's Music of the Heart, music video director Liz Friedlander makes her feature film debut here, working from a script by Dianne Houston. It places Dulaine, a professional dance instructor, in a high-school-of -hard- knocks presided over by principal Augustine James, (Alfre Woodward) a cynical educator who sees her job as one step removed from that of a warden at a minimum security prison. For reasons that remain obscure, Dulaine takes over as a volunteer teacher, presiding over a detention class of terminal academic losers, only to turn them into dazzling contestants in a competitive ballroom dance contest by the end of the semester. 

There is plenty of dazzling footwork here, from tango to fox trot to waltz, all performed by athletically talented dancers who make it look impossibly easy and wonderfully effortless. But the screenplay brims with cliché and warmed over plot devices well past their sell-by dates, making the script's progress towards the dance floor showdown as inevitable as the outcome of a Cuban Presidential Election. Banderas is quietly charming as the restrained Dulaine and Woodward invests her role with caustic yet attractive energy, but it's not enough to overcome pedestrian dialogue, cardboard characters, unimaginative cinematography and indifferent direction. The chorography works…but that's about all.  

The Verdict? Unless you're interested in opening an Arthur Murray franchise, this is one you can skip. 

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