Admit it: You've watched Save the Last Dance on cable (and secretly liked it) and used to daydream about going to a school where kids spontaneously bust out ballet moves in the cafeteria.
Teen-dance-movie fans (closeted or otherwise), take note: Antonio Banderas has strapped on his dancing shoes, and he's brought along an eager cast of sure-footed youth to satiate your unquenchable hunger for sweet, sweet cheese. There's a double serving of it in Take the Lead inspired by the real story of Pierre Dulaine's inner-city ballroom dance program, but far too earnest to be accurate. It's a messy mix of watered-down drama a la Dangerous Minds, with the sexy shtick of Dirty Dancing and the uptown vs. downtown vibe of Bring It On. It's so bad, yet so hard to resist.
In Take the Lead, Banderas plays Dulaine, an acclaimed ballroom dancer who inserts himself in the lives of a group of urban misfits, who must overcome a staggering array of clichés (and, in one case, a mom who's a ho) to lay it all on the line in a citywide dance competition. The big drama comes when Dulaine has to gasp! rearrange his scheduled classes teaching snobs and debutantes so he can fit in the inner-city kids' lessons. Sure, Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda) and Albert Schindler (Schindler's List) showed extreme selflessness, but did either of them have to change their date books? These are peoples' lives we are talking about here. They have things to do, and when you mess with their schedules, things get really, really hard.
It's amazing this scheduling conflict scenario was completely ignored in last year's Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about Dulaine's program to teach ballroom dancing to New York City schoolkids. Ah, but who needs realism and grit when you've got Mr. Latin-Lover himself teaching the tango? (Not to mention the fact that Dulaine was born of a British father and French-Palestinian mother, and hasn't a lick of Latin in him).
Take the Lead falters in the drama department, but it delivers where it counts, at least where it counts for a teen movie: It has kick-ass dance sequences, some guilty-pleasure teen romance and a killer sound track that includes a Q-Tip/Lena Horne mash-up. And, of course, the big competition finale culminates in an improvised dance-off, where the street kids school the stuffy uptown girls and guys. So mindless. So lame. You know you want to see it.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].