I thought the whole idea of combining ballroom dance and rap was nixed after Master P stood there while his partner put herself through the entire Kama Sutra on "Dancing With the Stars." But here's Take the Lead, which stars Antonio Banderas as a ballroom-dance instructor who teaches a group of inner-city rejects how to glide through life's difficulties. Think Dangerous Minds, only with the tango and the waltz instead of old Bob Dylan songs. Or think Mad Hot Ballroom, only with high school kids instead of elementary school kids. Banderas' character is based on Pierre Dulaine, the gentleman who convinced some of New York City's most neglected public schools to add ballroom dancing to their curriculums. And although Dulaine's program hasn't graduated to the high schools yet, Hollywood producers can dream, can't they?
What they dream about, I suspect, is combining the hip-hop market with the burgeoning Fred-and-Ginger revival. And if Banderas is still capable of generating some sexual heat after playing a dad in Spy Kids and a putty-cat in Shrek II, so much the better. Actually, he seems more than capable, moving his lithe body around like a caged panther, but the script puts a chastity belt on him. We never really know why Dulaine takes time out from his busy schedule to show these detention students how to square "Shake That Ass" with "Fly Me to the Moon." The movie isn't really about him. It's about those detention students - the roughest, toughest crew since "Welcome Back, Kotter." As they slowly succumb to Dulaine's charms, adding their own flava to his moves, you could write the script in your sleep. Scriptwriter Dianne Houston seems to have, anyway.
But there's always the promise of championship ballroom dancing, a promise the movie largely fails to keep. For some reason, director Liz Friedlander keeps cutting away from Banderas' big tango number, leaving us to wonder whether it was all put together in the editing room. And the hip-hop/clippety-clop finale, where the Cosby Kids show the fox-trotters a thing or two about expressing yourself, suggests there isn't a future for this strange hybrid - a pity, perhaps, because each has something to learn from the other. Ballroom dance could stand to loosen up a bit, let down its hair. And hip-hop could use a few pointers on how to treat a lady, although the movie has to fudge the fact that, in ballroom dance, it's the man who takes the lead. Or, as one of the students puts it, "Mr. Dulaine is getting his flirt on."