The presence of Antonio Banderas aside, all the moves in 'Take the Lead' - a story about how a charismatic ballroom dancing teacher makes a difference in the lives of some disadvantaged students - are predictable. Every regular cinema goer will recognise the genre, we've been here before with 'Dangerous Minds', 'Lean on Me', even back as far as 'To Sir, with Love', and the only surprise about 'Take the Lead' is how Banderas became involved in such a by-the-numbers script. Perhaps he was seduced by the fact that the story is based on the beginnings of the dance programme depicted in last year's heartfelt documentary 'Mad Hot Ballroom'. But viewers don't have to make the same mistake.
Banderas plays dedicated dance instructor Pierre Dulaine. One night, as he elegantly cycles through New York City, he surprises a high school hard case Rock (Brown) trashing a car belonging to put-upon principal Augustine James (Woodard). The following day, for no apparent (and never explained) reason, Dulaine turns up at the school to offer his teaching services. As luck might have it, a desperate Augustine needs someone to look after a group of delinquent detention students. They might be dismissive of his old-fashioned music and steps at the start but, with the help of a sexy blonde (Virshilas), the kids quickly start acting like transfer students from 'Fame'. They overcome personal issues and problems; Dulaine manages to disarm educational opposition to his programme and the film even cumulates with a dance-off against Dulaine's snooty privileged students at a big citywide dance competition.
Although the plot is clichéd and banal, the actors do a genuinely credible job. With all his European savoir-faire, a besuited Banderas is effortlessly charming while his charges pull off their assorted hard-luck stories with aplomb. It is not matched by the director's faith in her tale, however. For a film purportedly about ballroom dancing, music-video veteran Liz Friedlander seems to agree with the kids' initial assessment of Dulaine's dance, ever ready to focus on hip-hop music and moves if the quick step or rumba seem likely to take up more than two minutes of screentime.
As inspirational stories go, 'Take the Lead' is decidedly on the uninspired side. For a truly engaging tale of passion, ballroom dancing and sheer suspense, skip this and save your money for renting 'Mad Hot Ballroom'. Sometimes truth can be, if not stranger, at least more entertaining than fiction.