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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Commanding Lead
by Geoffrey D. Roberts

Rock's ticket to the school dance has become wrinkled and wet in his pocket, but the text is still readable. The guard should have let him in without a hassle. Instead, this disgruntled high school student finds himself in an argument, being shoved and grabbed by security in Take the Lead.

Rock, played by Rob Brown, feels the guard is racist and appeals to Principal Augustine James (Alfre Woodard), who upholds the decision not to let him in. Rock's brother was murdered during a brutal gang war, so he would rather avoid trouble -- but his anger over this incident lands him right in the middle of it. 

Augustine has parked on the street. Her parking pass contains a photo and dangles from her rear view mirror. Rock sees this and begins to smash the car's headlights. When the alarm sounds, he tries to dash across the road but is hit by a car. He manages to get up and keep on moving.

Dance instructor Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) witnesses Rock bashing in the car, but does not go to the police with what he knows. Instead, he approaches the principal in her office and hands over her parking pass. All he will tell her about the suspect is that the student in question could be African-American or Hispanic.

Dulaine knows that teens in trouble could benefit from his dance program. He wants to teach Augustineís students ballroom dancing, but the cynical principal scoffs at him.  These kids are the toughest individuals she has ever dealt with. The school is understaffed and nobody wants to stay and lead detention after classes are done for the day. However, she agrees to let Dulaine teach his course and assigns him some of the worst kids in the school.

Caitlin (Lauren Collins) has a cotillion to prepare for. Dulaine is training her at his posh studio where rich clients take lessons. Caitlin is not a dancer, so she's miserable because her mother pressures her to nail dance routines for the competition. She trips all over herself and is not the least bit graceful, but she doesn't want to embarrass or disappoint her mother in front of an audience. 

Dulaineís students, who must show up at detention in order to graduate, are not into ballroom dancing or any of his musical tastes. The tide begins to shift when they learn of a $5,000 prize that could be won in a competition. The studentís become motivated and begin mixing music, ballroom and their own moves to form a new style.

When Caitlin learns of Dulaineís classes with inner-city school kids, she thinks it would be a safer environment to learn in. She meets Monster (Brandon D. Andrews), whose huge stature makes it difficult for him to dance without stepping on the toes of his partners or knocking them around. Caitlin and Monster quickly form a partnership and bond with each other as they practice together. 

Rock and LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta) loathe one another. Neither can stand being in the same room as the other. They are mortal enemies as a result of losing brothers in a gang war. Dulaine makes Rock and LaRhette partners, which forces them to be close to each other.

Classes are in jeopardy when the basement of the school is flooded. Pierre has only one option. The students will now train at his upscale studio despite the resistence building from his rich clients.

To complicate matters even more, Dulaine meets with derision when another teacher, Mr. Temple (John Ortiz), tries to work with the parentís association to have Dulaine and his classes removed permanently. 

Although Banderas and Woodard give polished and commanding performances here, Brown steals the film as Rock. His character -- vulnerable, volatile, full of rage and calm yet conflicted all at once -- is a difficult one to nail.  DaCosta and Collins also turn in memorable performances.

With Take the Lead, first-time director Liz Friedlander delivers a fast-paced, engaging, feel-good film. And writer Dianne Houston, whose screenplay is well written and executed, has done her homework when it comes to Dulaine's "Dancing Classrooms." The only flaw I noticed in this movie involves its editing. Some of the scenes are a bit jarring because of rapid cuts. Still, that doesn't stop me from recommending Take the Lead as an entertaining film most viewers will relate to.

(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "PG-13" for thematic material, language and some violence.)

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