"Take the Lead" manages to take every dance/inspirational movie cliché and integrate them effortlessly into its two hour running time. This isn't a great film, but it isn't a terrible one either. It has its charm, mainly found in the actors and the scenes involving the hybridized dancing and music that the characters conjure up by mashing old danceable jazz tunes with new flavored hip-hop. The musical concoction seems like it might not work but it does and ultimately helps many of the dance scenes from being like everything else that's come before. If only the rest of the film where that way.
Antonio Banderas stars as Pierre Dulaine, an internationally acclaimed ballroom dancer who decides to donate his time to teach dance to the troubled youth of some of New York's inner city schools. The rest is what you'd expect as Dulaine finds himself with a crop of teenagers who don't exactly take to his methods right away. He's ballroom, they're hip-hop of course they're going to clash. After a few failed attempts, they finally take to each other, but only after Dulaine invites one of his well-versed dance students to perform with him in front of the troubled teens. They dance the tango and instantly catch their attention. The movement is passionate and full of life, as most the dance scenes in this film are. It's the scenes in between that are the problem.
The scenario has been played out so many times before that it's difficult to make this kind of material work. Banderas is charismatic as an actor but his Dulaine is such an affable fellow with little, if no other, desire than to teach dance that he seems all too aloof at times. Banderas does what he can with the role but it offers little in the way inspirational gravitas. On the other hand, the "teens" in the film played by the likes of Rob Brown ("Coach Carter"), Dante Basco ("Biker Boyz"), Yaya DaCosta ("America's Next Top Model"), and Lyriq Bent ("Saw II"), among others, have some nice moments with each other including a would be couple who's brothers where involved in a gangland shootout killing one of them. Underlying resentments bubble up when the two are paired together by Dulaine and, as expected, love blooms between the two.
A love triangle involving Jenna Dewan, Basco and Bent ends in a wonderfully choreographed dance sequence that acts as the films climax, which is more than is expected from the subplot. The problem is that we spend so little time with any of these characters that we really don't care. There are so many characters to keep track of and the characterization so thin, that the films is like an action film where the dramatic scenes in between seem like they're there only to get us to the next big dance sequence.
The film's opening is intriguing. Opening with a cross-cut set of scenes contrasting the two styles of music and dance that are about to meet head on through the course of the film. Set to a remixed version of Lena Horne's "I Got Rhythm" featuring Q-Tip (formerly of influential hip-hop group "A Tribe Called Quest"), the scenes are a nice blend of old and new styles, making for an exciting beginning to the film. The film's opening gusto isn't surprising considering director Liz Friedlander's background in music videos. It would have been interesting to see how the rest of the film had played out had Friedlander adapted this same philosophy even to more mundane scenes.
The DVD is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. The image is crisp and clean, with colors popping beautifully off the screen. There is no grain or blemishes of any kind present through out the disc. Dance sequences show no signs of pixilation, nor does the rest of the film for that matter. Overall the presentation looks pristine.
Audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo mix. The 5.1 soundtrack is strong, giving depth to the music as it's pumped through the surrounds. Music is robust and sounds great; it never completely drowns out other ambient sounds or dialogue. When the music isn't blaring, the dialogue takes center stage and there are no complaints in this area; a great sounding mix throughout. Spanish subtitles are also included.
Overall, the extras are fairly standard offering a decent set of bonus features. A feature commentary with director Liz Friedlander and editor Robert Ivison offers some genial banter between the pair. They discuss the usual thoughts on cast, filming, dancing and everything in between.
The DVD features 7 deleted and alternate scenes, nothing too special here. "Meet the Dungeon Kids" is a brief look at the performers behind the detentions tudents composing Dulaine's class. It's a nice little look at the versatile cast, who, sadly, don't get much to do outside of dancing in the film.
"You Take the Lead: Multi-Angle Tango" is one of those nifty little features that allows you to make your own edit of a particular scene in the film. "Between the Steps: A Profile of Pierre Dulaine" is a look at the real Pierre Dulaine. The featurette is a great look at the work Dulaine is doing with inner city youth. It features interviews with Dulaine, some of the films crew, cast and some of the people whose lives Dulaine has affected. "Liz, Swizz and Ziggy: The Director & Her Music Team" is a brief look at Friedlander and the team of choreographers she brought together to work on the film. Also included are "Trailer Remixes" and the original Theatrical trailer
"Take the Lead" features some interesting eye candy and head bobbing musical accompaniment. Still, the film offers little, if any, new insights into the inspirational/urban/coming of age tales of this genre. To say the least, if Friedlander and company had placed more emphasis on the dancing and music and less on the inner city melodramatic trappings, the film might have actually been worthwhile.