Take the Lead Liz Friedlander

Take the Lead Liz Friedlander
In the Arthur Murray heyday of the 1950s, you too could learn to dance simply by buying the LP with accompanying floor map and putting your feet in the assigned footprints. Easy as one-two-cha-cha-cha.

Take the Lead, a first-time feature from music video director Liz Friedlander, seems to have been made according to the mass-produced underdog dance movie map. Alas, the filmmakers then proceed to stomp all over the plan with little regard for crisp movement, tempo, rhythm, swing, or any of the other elements that make ballroom dancing, or a movie about it, come alive.

A frustratingly marble-mouthed Antonio Banderas stars as the dandy French ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine, who arrives by dandy French bicycle on a zealous mission: to teach a bunch of angry, violent inner city kids ballroom dancing, whilst saving a few lives in the process.

The plot is standard: the kids resist, he wins them over, there’s a contest, random gunfire, last minute redemption and a triumphant finish. The rote approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing — when it’s well done the simplest "triumph of the underdog” movie is genuinely hard to resist. But it’s got to have soul, and it’s got to make sense. Take the Lead fails on both counts due to its preponderance of B- and C-character subplots that muddy the story and don’t go anywhere, its neglect of the characters that need to be the emotional anchor of the story, and its confused avoidance of any real drama leading up to the big contest.

Jamal Wallace (Coach Carter, Finding Forrester) provides warmth as the central savee and hackly-named Rock. He may have made a career of playing angry young black men saved by their mentors, but at least he knows just where to step in this otherwise tangle-footed production. (Alliance Atlantis)