Take the Lead is a surprisingly fun date movie, albeit loaded with pretty much every cliché on the dance card. After witnessing an inner-city teenager wail upon a high school principal’s car with a golf club after she disses him at a school dance, ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) inexplicably feels compelled to enter a New York public school system. He offers to teach a gaggle of seemingly dead-end kids the discipline of the tango, the waltz, the foxtrot and the whatnot in order to make them believe in themselves as the kids dance their way to a big ballroom-dance competition.
We’ve seen it all before, but the cast is game and charming, and so the movie moves along painlessly through the tropes cobbled together to make a cohesive narrative as it dances toward the predictable climatic showdown.
And, while the dance-set pieces are admittedly engaging, less attention is spent explaining the motivations of Mr. Dulaine. Purportedly “based on a true story,” Take the Lead leaves Dulaine as an enigma who spouts hackneyed aphorisms at any given opportunity without ever giving the impression of anything other than being a kind of cultural Lone Ranger, tangoing off into the sunset after imparting the wisdom of “If you like dancing, you were made to dance” unto the grateful and enlightened ruffians.
But then, Take the Lead wasn’t intended to be a psychological study of a lonely dance instructor; it’s all about the dance, and in that regard delivers what it promises.