Take the Lead
American Ballroom Theater director Pierre Dulaine—who started the program seen in Mad Hot Ballroom—gets the inspirational Hollywood treatment in music video director Liz Friedlander’s feature debut, and holy fox trot if it doesn’t nail its by-the-numbers against-the-odds uplift. The old-world dapper Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) teaches ballroom dancing to Manhattan’s posh and privileged teens, but when he runs afoul of an inner-city teen (Finding Forrester’s Rob Brown) letting out his anger with the old golf-club-to-the-car routine, Dulaine decides to take more interest in the so-called “at risk.” He agrees to oversee a high school’s detention hall, where he gets the class rejects—a cross section of African-American, Latino, and Caucasian street punks such as Ramos (Dante Basco), Lahrette (Yaya DaCosta), Danjou (Elijah Kelley), and Sasha (Jenna Dewan)—to learn self-respect, dignity, pride, and all the other et ceteras through ballroom dancing. Yes, it’s as heartwarmingly manipulative as expected, and more entertaining than a room full of puppies. Banderas is refreshingly restrained throughout, giving most of the dance time to the wiggly young cast, who start out the flick stripper-dancing to hip-hop and slowly take to waltzing and salsaing with unabashed glee. Best routine: a West Side Story-ish tango for the Sean Paul generation.