My continuing quest to see everything now leads me to Take the Lead, a film whose considerable charms would be a great deal easier to appreciate if they weren't bogged down in grotesque and inconsistent libertarian propaganda.

...sorry, wrong film.

One of the most consistent genres in cinema history is the "noble liberal teacher who comes to bring a group of troubled ethnic youths to realize their full potential by regarding them with respect, something their 'real' teachers never do, for reasons probably related to race, even though the 'real' teachers are themselves minorities and the noble liberal teacher is white" film. I say consistent, and I mean it; no film in this (sub-)genre is particularly bad, and none of them are really at all interesting.

I should probably back up and admit that in a lot of "troubled youth/inspiring teacher" movies, race isn't an issue, and sometimes the noble liberal teacher is in fact a minority member, but in Take the Lead, neither is the case. The teacher, Pierre Dulaine, is half-French, half-Spanish. The Spanish half is played by Antonio Banderas, a man with considerable screen presence and class; he is actually able to deliver a line such as "love is a universal feeling" and make you believe: a) you haven't heard it before; b) it's true; c) it's an appropriate defense of Gershwin music.

So yes, the plot: Dulaine works for a swanky dance school, when a Chance Encounter with a Troubled Youth with a Secret Heart of Gold brings him to a run-down high school, where he volunteers to teach the lost causes in the detention hall how to dance. This will teach them respect for each other and themselves, a fact he proves by dancing with the principal at a school board meeting. The Lost Causes don't trust him at first because his music is older than they are. One multi-thousand dollar Mac sound mixing computer later, he has extracted the baseline from "They Can't Take That Away from Me," and they're all well on their ways to winning the High Society Dance Competition.

Oops, I spoiled the ending. Except not. Have you ever seen a movie? Good, you know just about every scene in the entire bloated 108 minutes of Take the Lead.

I want to make one thing clear: Banderas is a delight to watch, and his dancing is, if not Astaire-good, at least enough to entertain. But virtually no other aspect of the film does anything, good or bad. None of the other performers have any sort of chemistry, and frankly, none of them can dance better than a normal person with a few months' experience - deadly for a dance-based movie. And the plot keeps repeating itself, so the whole thing gets boring, especially in the putatively-exciting dance competition finale.

Technically, it's a mixed bag. There's nothing special to the cinematography, altough some of the exteriors have a nicely washed-out feeling that does not, surprisingly, glamorize the ghetto (there are a couple of crash zooms I really wish weren't there; it's not a rap video, folks). The editing, however, sucks. Perhaps in an attempt to liven things up, there are needless cuts from one angle to a slightly closer framing of the same angle, and in a couple places some truly hateful slow-motion crops up, to focus on "impressive" dance steps that are barely distinguishable from the rest.

And despite the name-dropping of some of the best jazz and pop singers of the mid-century, the kids still hate it all at the end. That's the arc I would have liked to see: Banderas teaches a group of inner-city toughs how to appreciate Lena Horne while sitting still.