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TAKE THE LEAD

SYNOPSIS:
Based on the true story of the professional dancer Pierre Dulane (Antonio Banderas) - inspiration for the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom - who runs a dance school. When he volunteers to teach dance in the New York public school system, he is met with disdain and resistance. But while his classic background at first clashes with his students' contempo tastes, there is a meeting of the mindsets.

Review by Louise Keller:
A feel-good story using music and dance to guide problem kids onto the straight and narrow, Take The Lead is entertaining, although not the showstopper we might hope for. Antonio Banderas charms with his elegant demeanour and a vital young cast inspires with passionate performances. There's real substance in the film's themes which addresses the ability for wayward inner-city kids to establish a sense of self esteem and dignity, but I missed emotional highs and lows, partly due to its formulaic and predictable treatment.

Thanks to Baz Luhrmann whose Strictly Ballroom initially parted the curtains of popularity, ballroom dancing has tangoed its way into our hearts over the past 15 years. The juxtaposition of ballroom with hip hop is an incongruous one, and the dance lesson in which two different styles of music are played simultaneously is conceptually stimulating. Banderas has enough magnetism to glue the film together, as Pierre Dulaine, the impeccably dressed dance teacher with the melancholy air. We don't get to know much about Pierre's back story, but the hint of sadness and one key scene with Rob Brown's battler Rock, make it clear that there is sound motivation behind his mission with the kids relegated to detention. All the cast is excellent and when the rebellious group is unexpectedly given an exhibition of a sensual tango by sexy Morgan (Katya Virshila), we understand why they are impressed.

The subplots about Rock and LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta) whose problems give them more in common than they think, and poor little rich kid Caitlin (Lauren Collins) who finds herself more at home with the outcasts work well as well as the implied romance between Pierre and Laura Benanti's Tina. If the storyline has a problem, it comes at the end, when the supposedly climactic dancing competition scene reaches a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. It's an enticing soundtrack with a diverse selection of music from Nat King Cole and Lena Horne to Jae Millz and Kem.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With a touch of Strictly Ballroom's structure, coupled with its delinquents-saved-by-dance story, Take The Lead is full of good intentions and gritty-to-glittery journeys, but there is too much manipulation to make the film engaging on any deep emotional level. The true story is probably far more grungy and black than this film suggests, and the all too pat resolution of the conflict between Pierre Dulane (Antonio Banders) and the school bureaucracy flattens the drama.

There are some singularly moving moments, all the same, and the performances by the young 'desperates' who fall under Pierre's care, are all terrifically real. The dance sequences range from the early, clumsy stuff through to the final accomplishments and deliver what we expect from early on, but the deep seated problems of the youth portrayed are not really solved. On the way, we encounter big, small, fat, slim and oddball characters whose body shapes and hairstyles are part of the film's attempt to show us what an amazing range of misfits Pierre had to work with.

All that is fine, if a little laboured, but the vacuum in which Pierre is presented as a human being is a big black hole into which the film ultimately disappears.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

TAKE THE LEAD (PG)
(US)

CAST: Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Brandon D. Andrews, Dante Basco, John Ortiz, Laura Benanti, Marcus T. Paulk

PRODUCER: Christopher Godsick, Michelle Grace, Diane Nabatoff

DIRECTOR: Liz Friedlander

SCRIPT: Dianne Houston

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alex Nepomniaschy

EDITOR: Robert Ivison

MUSIC: Swizz Beatz, Aaron Zigman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul D. Austerberry

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 25, 2006

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: September 21, 2006







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