Film >Take the Lead
Making the most of its well-traveled story outline "underdogs dance" the dramatic-feature equivalent to Mad Hot Ballroom finds heart (if not unbroken believability) in the tale of a bunch of at-risk New York kids led into self-esteem by an old-world dance expert (Antonio Banderas). It's an unabashed crowd pleaser that gets the job done despite a handful of groaner moments and occasionally sloppy writing. (Alfre Woodard's school principal enjoys enough early screen time to indicate that she could be our main character, only to disappear from the film for a perplexing stretch.) On the plus side, Banderas' role is almost as good a showcase for his faintly ridiculous middle-age suavity as was his Puss in Boots in Shrek 2, and the glimpses into the teenagers' after-school lives can be realistically harrowing: One girl has an honest-to-goodness 'ho for a mother, who entertains customers in her boudoir while almost the entire family watches TV in the next room. There's a subplot that won't be turning up on the Disney Channel.