'Take the Lead'
Even at its most mechanical -- and let's face it, a movie about a teacher who instills his students with self-respect through unconventional means is going to be pretty mechanical -- "Take the Lead" has a goofy, self-mocking tone that carries it along even at its most laughable.
Some of that credit has to go to Antonio Banderas, who plays the heavily fictionalized role of New York ballet teacher Pierre Dulaine with the same blissfully straight carriage he brought to the "Zorro" movies; he plays a man willing to look silly if it gets him where he needs to be.
"Take the Lead" offers Banderas plenty of chances to look silly. He has to give the usual inspirational speeches to the generically troubled students about how self-respect is the first step towards a better life, and so on. It gets a little dodgy when he's telling the girls that, for a woman on the dance floor, choosing to follow as important as leading -- it seems to be at odds with the movie's title, after all -- but they seem to understand what he's getting at.
Banderas' off-kilter energy and deadpan elegance make the movie watchable, even when music-video director Liz Friedlander is trying her best to sink it with unnecessary camera tricks, choppy editing and a weird habit of putting music on the soundtrack that the characters shouldn't be able to hear, but apparently can.
Incidentally, Dulaine's real-life accomplishment was in creating ballroom-dance courses for New York middle-schoolers, not the buff, sexual high-school seniors Banderas is shown to be teaching: The real Dulaine's efforts are on display in the sweet, quirky documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom." "Take the Lead" asks a different question: Shall We Dance, Coach Carter?
New Line's enhanced-widescreen DVD is a reasonable special edition, with director Friedlander and editor Robert Ivison contributing audio commentary for both the feature and a selection of seven deleted scenes.
Three featurettes offer a look at the production without ever quite confronting it head-on: "Meet the Dungeon Kids" takes a look at the enthusiastic cast, complete with audition footage and on-set choreography lessons; "Between the Steps: A Profile of Pierre Dulaine" spends an equal amount of time with the real Mr. Mad Hot (who, it turns out, looks a lot more like Soap star Robert Mandan than Antonio Banderas), and "Liz, Swizz and Ziggy: The Director and Her Music Team" explores the collaborative relationship between Friedlander and music supervisors Swizz Beatz and Aaron Zigman.
The disc also includes a couple of additional extras that aren't not quite as innovative as they first sound. The "Trailer Remixes" -- which are, indeed, remixed versions of the theatrical trailer -- are kind of silly, and the "Interactive Tango Demonstration" is just a multi-angle version of the movie's sizzling tango sequence, rather than an actual, you know, demonstration.
Exactly why New Line felt the disc should be packaged with an insert for the upcoming "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" prequel remains unexplained.
STUDIO: New Line Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2006
TIME: 118 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: English and Spanish subtitles; audio commentary; deleted scenes; production featurettes; remixed trailers; tango demonstration.
INTERNET SITE: www.taketheleadmovie.com