Take the Lead is an "easy fix" movie, a Hollywood contrivance nailed in Thank You for Smoking (see "Blowing smoke," April 15). When a tobacco lobbyist meets a Hollywood super-agent to concoct a campaign to make cigarettes cool again using a futuristic sci-fi film, the lobbyist worries, "But wouldn't [cigarettes] blow up in an all-oxygen environment?" "Probably," says the Hollywood agent. "But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the . . . you know, whatever device.'"
The far-fetched Take the Lead (rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence) suffers doubly because anyone who has seen the excellent 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom knows how good the source material is, and how far this film is from it.
Antonio Banderas provides for the film what little spark and conviction it has as Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom-dancing instructor who develops a program in New York City to teach troubled kids to tango, rumba, and waltz. The thoroughly entertaining (and often poignant) Mad Hot Ballroom chronicles Mr. Dulaine's remarkable success at teaching elementary age children. That's not sexy enough for fiction, though, so a sexier Mr. Banderas teaches a sexy group of multiethnic high-schoolers a sexed-up version of ballroom/hip hop.
Attitudes change and futures are brightened, all on the road to a city-wide dance competition that pits the poor inner-city kids against some snotty, white uptown rivals.
Straight ballroom definitely wouldn't cut it here, which brings us back to the film's "easy fix" mentality. Somehow, the film's producers needed to bridge the gap between ballroom and hip hop, so they add a rich white girl into Mr. Dulaine's after-school-detention dance class. She shows up one day with a suitcase full of computers and audio equipment, which magically produce complex, on-the-spot beefy-beat remixes of classic ballroom tunes. "Thank God we invented the . . . you know, whatever device."
Take the Lead features an enjoyable lead performance, some entertaining dancing, and the occasional positive message about responsibility. But for the true story, and a vastly better film, rent Mad Hot Ballroom.