Each year, hundreds of movies are released in this country. A select few may resonate with you on a personal level, to the extent you’ll seek it out several times in the theater and probably end up buying it to watch over and over again. Conversely, quite a few more will come out that fill you with such irrational hatred you can scarcely stand to speak their names without veins throbbing in your temples and blood leaking from your ears.
For every movie that falls into one of these two extremes, there are countless others that leave almost no impression whatsoever. These are the vast majority of Hollywood releases, which exist for no other reason than to provide a few hours’ worth of distraction from whatever your personal demons happen to be. They are the cinematic equivalent of donut holes: vaguely satisfying, yet hardly fulfilling, and forgotten shortly after they’re consumed.
That’s “Take the Lead” – an amalgam of “Dangerous Minds” and “Footloose” with a little slobs-vs-snobs thrown in for good measure – in a nutshell. Granted, it’s a “true story,” which supposedly makes it more inspirational and s**t, but even before Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) straps on his dancing shoes to teach these inner city youth how to seize the day through samba, you know how everything’s going to turn out. The only time Hollywood makes true stories with unhappy endings are when there’s some sort of inspirational message to be drawn from whatever horrible tragedy befalls the main character. In short, if you’re looking for Banderas to get eaten by sewer alligators, better luck next time.
Dulaine comes to the run down New York high school by convenient accident. It seems he witnessed an act of vandalism perpetrated on the principal’s car and dutifully shows up to report it. Principal James (Alfre Woodard) gives him the brush-off, until she realizes it was her car. She challenges the ballroom dance instructor who says he “wants to help” to monitor the problem kids during detention. He does so, meeting with failure before ultimately (and unsurprisingly) realizing that the key to these wayward kids’ hearts is – you guessed it – dance.
Of the students Dulaine starts teaching, none really struck me as the lost causes that made up the chronic detention denizens when I was being sent there (I guess public schools have improved). Only one is considered dangerous, and of course we come to find out he comes from a Bad Home and is therefore Misunderstood. Dulaine manages to overcome his hostility, and the skepticism of the other kids, by convincing them dance is not a colossal waste of time. But will they be able to apply their newfound confidence to their dismal lives and, more importantly, can they get their act together in time for the big city-wide ballroom competition?
There’s no denying Banderas’ talent as an actor, and he’s admittedly fun to watch. The rest of the cast are serviceable, meaning Woodard finds new ways to show us how this Latin heartthrob melts her icy exterior, and that most of the kids are perfectly believable as obnoxious teenagers. Although I have to wonder how long 22-year old Rob Brown can continue playing high school students. “Finding Forrester” was six years ago, dude.