Cast: Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard, Rob Brown, Yaya Costa, Dante Basco, Marcus T. Paulk
Genre: Dance Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $66 million
Plot: The true story of a dance teacher who believed in the talents of a small group of inner city kids
'Dance Scenes Great, The Film Itself Is Not So Great'
Ever since 1980's Fame, dance based films have been all range, in terms of dance styles, if not for their proliferation and success on the story front. Hollywood has been trudging out the idea, with support from dance teachers and choreographers that like all forms of art, dance can be used as a way to rescue people, and especially young teenagers from a life of crime, drugs and despair.
Take The Lead is another in the line of these types of movies that emphasise the performing arts aspect of it, whilst at the other end, offer additional elements such as story, characters, social and personal situations, dilemmas these people face in their daily lives.
Luckily enough, and just about, despite the so-called 'butchering' of Pierre's legacy, the dancing is the main highlight of this film. Because the direction and originality in this film, is non-existent.
Dance instructor Pierre Dulaine witnesses a Black youth vandalising a car, belonging to the director of a public school and offers his services by teaching ballroom dancing to a group of 'socially disadvantaged' teens.
Take The Lead Is Fame/Strictly Ballroom meets Dangerous Minds, only it is less gritty and hard-hitting. That is not to say it is a bad thing altogether, yet as predictable as it sounds and is, story-wise, it doesn't reach the same quality as Dangerous Minds. Nor are the teenagers as interesting or much to write home about. One of them being then 31-yr-old Dante Basco aka Rufio of the Peter Pan film, Hook, who not only looks older but is cast as a teenager. Sorry, but I feel with young actors in their 20s or early 30s, if you want a character that is an adolescent, then cast a teenage adolescent actor.
The formula for these types of films has been done so many times in various contexts and backdrops: from To Sir With Love, Dead Poets Society to Dangerous Minds and Mona Lisa Smile, and to some extent even Kindergarten Cop, each of these movies all have the same plotline. A new teacher joins a school and tries to shake things up, change the rules, or be it tear up the rule book and in turn, win over their respect.
The screenplay for Take The Lead however is so passe and as predictable as it is, it lacked real conviction, intensity and drama. I could have done with more of the cutting edge that Dangerous Minds possessed; that streetwise, nitty gritty, feel that felt more genuine and being a tad less cookie-cutter.
Much like with Dangerous Minds, the students are culturally and ethnically diverse, are unruly, disrespectful and of whom talk back to the teacher. And after some time, they are transformed, as they embrace those methods.
What saves this film are the dance routines and scenes that are entertaining to sit through. Without them, and had they been not as good, I'd liked Take The Lead even less as a movie.
Antonio Banderas is great to watch, as he shimmies his way to their hearts content, whilst but for Rob Brown as Rock, none of the other kids stand out. Yaya Costa is okay perhaps, but Dante Basco, I expected more out of him, after being impressed by his efforts in Hook. Yet it just never really materialise. It's practically all one dimensional. As well as Yaya Costa, Rob Brown and Dante Basco, fans of sitcom, Moesha will recognise Marcus T. Paulk.
This film falls inbetween Dangerous Minds and despite the choreography and dance routines, the characterisations are moot and far less compelling than the former. There are just too many characters to focus on that the film should have stuck with Rob Brown and Yaya Costa's characters and have the additional subplot centered and focused around them and teacher, Pierre. The story should have had more impetus and potency, yet sadly, the director Liz Frielander and screen writer, Diane Houston made the mistake of making the dancing the focal point, whilst the story is an afterthought. It seems to me that they were more interested in making a film about a person bringing dance and joy to the kids lives, as opposed to carving out believable characters and interesting situations and storylines.
But for the dance sequences, Banderas and Brown, everything else is not as entertaining, insightful and watchable, and for a film based on an inspirational story, the key are the characters and quite frankly, they aren't very interesting.
If you tune in just for the dance scenes, then by all means, it is the only thing worth seeing.
It's not completely forgettable, but after revisiting this film, this is a tried and tested formula that doesn't offer more to stand out.
Take The Lead is the same old song and dance, and yet with more risks and invention taken, it ought to have led to something more tangible.