By Tom LaVenture
AAP staff writer
Take The Lead (New Line Cinema, Tiara Blu Films) opens nationwide on April 7, and will most certainly be a box-office hit –whether or not it receives the critical that acclaim it deserves. It is not everyday that a studio can go further with a formulaic film – and this film does so partly in that it is based on a true story, but more so because there are so many outstanding performances.
Antonio Banderas stars as “Pierre Dulaine,” the real-life Manhattan ballroom dance teacher and competition dancer who after visiting an inner city New York high school, convinces a beleaguered Principal Alfre Woodard (played by Augustine James) to let him teach ballroom dance to a diverse group of troubled students serving detention.
Principal Woodard and the other faculty tell the humble and well-mannered Dulaine that he is wasting his time in trying to teach these kids dance. He convince staff and parents that dance will teach kids self-respect through discipline and the responsibility that comes with teamwork, dedication and practice.
Dulaine is initially ridiculed by the students. His last attempt to win them over is a tango demonstration with Morgan (played by Katya Virshilas), a more affluent teen from Dulaine’s Manhattan dance studio. The boys are won over by the beautiful of the woman, and the girls of her elegant execution of her dance.
When Morgan rebuts the compliments with a condescending tone, an upcoming dance competition with a $5,000 prize becomes all the motivation the kids need to take their dancing seriously.
In the process, the lives of these “hopeless kids” are transformed, and despite the odds against them, they begin to look forward to a different future than has been expected of them.
The kids soon grow tired of Gershwin and Cole Porter, and using their digital technology, blend in their hip hop beat over the tempo of the tango, merengue. salsa, foxtrot, and waltz. It may make some traditional ballroom dancers and sportdance enthusiasts wince a little, but the film does hold together the passion and beauty of classical dance and that it is alive and well in the 21st century.
It the story sounds cliché, and at times it may seem to be a teen “win” formula. But, it really does go much deeper. The preview screening was a full house, and there were nothing but smiles and clapping.
The film highlights the lives of a diverse group of teens, and centers on Rock (Rob Brown) and LaRhette (Yaya DaCosta). The two are promising youth who both lost older brothers in gang wars, on opposite sides. They are lost and bitter and are paired for dancing because of debt that Brown has to Dulaine.
Filipino American Dante Basco plays “Ramos,” a hard-edged youth who is not easily swayed by Dulaine and his bourgeoisie dance. His questions lead Dulaine to illustrate how dancing and teamwork are relevant to their lives.
Basco’s seemingly minimal role grows in importance as he gets caught in a love triangle with “Sasha” (Jenna Dewan) and “Danjou” (Elijah Kelley). Dulaine tells the two boys they must share Sasha as a dance partner. The sparks fly as the three produce tension but also the highlight dance sequence of the film.
Basco was a dancer long before he became an actor, and said the chance to work on Take the Lead was “a dream come true.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Basco started out break-dancing at the age of 8 with his three brothers. He was inspired by watching John Travolta in “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever,” and was in one of the top dance groups in San Francisco, opening for acts like Ice T and performing during half-time shows for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland As.
Basco’s family moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. He won the role of “Rufio” in film, Hook, a Steven Spielberg movie starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. He also appeared in Biker Boyz, Naked Brown Men, Extreme Days, But I’m a Cheerleader, The Debut, Faking’ Da Funk, Rave and Riot.
Basco also enjoys poetry and hosts and open mic show called, “Da Poetry Lounge,” at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles. Dante has often appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam.” He and his brothers hope to make a hip-hop/rap album soon.
Take The Lead is Rated “PG-13” by the M.P.A.A. for “thematic material, language and some violence.”