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Rated 2.99 stars
by 2483 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
To Dance, with Love
by Jeffrey Chen

You've seen this movie before, or, rather, you'd be able to imagine this one pretty easily. Just take To Sir, with Love, or any of its descendants (Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc.), but instead of having the teacher show the unruly students the value of education, have him show the kids the value of dance. Actually, make that teacher Antonio Banderas, and he'll have them learning the value of dance! -- with that special flare Banderas has trademarked as his very own.

What else can one say about Take the Lead? To employ a description I find myself falling back on way too often lately, the movie is neither here nor there. It's inspired by the real-life story of Banderas's character Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dance instructor who has instituted such classes into the New York public school curriculum. It's an encouraging story to be certain, but the movie, the first directed by music video veteran Liz Friedlander, plays it formula all the way through.

Thus we have the tough kids in detention -- they all have bad attitudes and several of them have tough back stories. Naturally, they aren't really bad eggs; there's good in them, but someone just has to bring it out of them. Their environment is unrelenting, where the students go through metal detectors and are watched by a hard-as-nails principal (Alfre Woodard) inside, are surrounded by drug dealers and ne'er-do-wells outside, and put up with irresponsible parents at home. Enter Mr. Dulaine, a traditionalist who sees hope in the kids where others do not and takes it upon himself to build up their confidence through the rigorous discipline of ballroom dancing. Oh yeah, and of course there's a contest at the end of the story, which the kids inevitably enter.

If the movie has any idea of its own, it may be the argument that passions are universal, however differently they may be channeled from generation to generation. It makes a rather big deal of the juxtaposition between Mr. Dulaine's old-fashioned music and dancing and the kids' preference for hip-hop and club-style moves. Naturally, the two styles become synthesized because the love for these forms of expression come from a common ground. It's a nice thought, and it's the main thing that convinces me these kids might actually want to listen to what Mr. Dulaine has to say.

Otherwise, Take the Lead is frustrating in its conventionality -- how bad do the kids have to be to bring Mr. Dulaine to the brink of thinking this was a bad idea, before he finds a surefire way to break through to them, and how much can we believe this? How much should the movie upplay its own hipness to find acceptance with its youthful target audience? This point, in particular, grates in how it's played out. The music video-style editing creates some nifty montages (such as the film's opening sequence), but it's annoying when applied to the dance sequences (ballroom dancing is beautiful as a continuous motion, not as a series of edits).

Worse yet, the movie is so concerned with appeasing younger tastes that it distrusts the very integrity of the ideas Mr. Dulaine teaches. When the kids take the floor at the contest, for example, the traditional music gives way on the soundtrack to something remixed with heavy beats to amp up the action. In trying to impart the value of the dances, the movie cheats by softening them up for the younger viewers.

The experience is what we'd expect. The modern music gets us dancing in our seats as the ballroom dancers wow the audience. Since the movie does its job well in playing out its formulas, it becomes an effective endorphin rush at the time. You can have fun at Take the Lead, but then you knew you would, right? After all, this kind of easy crowdpleaser isn't hard to imagine.

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

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