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Un-Hip-Hop 

What an awful movie. What a bad piece of lazy, sloppy, unrealistic filmmaking. You get a warning the moment it starts -- one of those "inspired by a true story" announcements, which more and more tend to make me want to drink large Cokes so I'll have a good excuse to leave for the bathroom right in the middle of it. But having made it all the way through this one, I will go on record as saying that even using the word "inspired" here has got to be a stretch.

Yes, apparently there is a guy named Pierre Dulaine, who taught ballroom dance and who also decided to teach it -- in his spare time -- to a group of troublemaking kids at a New York high school. But the way Dulaine's story is presented here, we might as well say that a wizard came to a rough-and-tumble high school, sprinkled fairy dust on all the troubled youth, and suddenly they became nice boys and girls -- and hot damn can they waltz!

The film introduces itself with formula pasted all over it. First we see Dulaine (Antonio Banderas) donning a tuxedo while dancing around his apartment to a smooth, jazzy recording of Lena Horne singing "I Got Rhythm." Then it quickly cuts to some high school kids in another apartment, dancing up their own storm to a hip-hop re-mix of the song by Q-Tip. Cut back to Dulaine. Cut back to the kids. Yeah, yeah, we get it -- it's the two different worlds.

Wait, maybe we don't. There's Dulaine, smoother than silk, gliding around the floor to "Moon River" with his beautiful partner at a glitzy party. Quick cut to more kids, busting out all over the floor in chaotic dance to a hip-hop tune at a crowded school party. This back-and-forth idea gets pretty tired within the first few minutes, but variations of it keep coming back throughout the film.

Oh, the story -- must not forget the story. Here comes Dulaine, riding his bicycle through the streets of New York, his tux tails flying behind him, when he sees an act of vandalism being committed on a car. He sees the student-age kid who does it -- Rock (Rob Brown) -- and he sees the ID card of the local high school principal (Alfre Woodard) on the dashboard. So without a thought, he arrives at the school the next morning, all dressed up and oozing good manners, to announce that he'd like to teach ballroom dance there. The principal laughs, then shows him to the bare and seemingly airless basement room where she keeps some very special students -- those who have caused enough trouble to have earned detention down there for the rest of the school year. She calls them the school rejects.

Most of the film plays out in that room. Dulaine uses his special tactics to get the rejects to dispense with hip-hop, learn to love "his" music and become so good at ballroom dancing that they all enter a city-wide ballroom dance competition.

Three notes: The kids all laugh at Dulaine, too. One of his tactics is to play "They Can't Take That Away From Me" so loud that it gets them to behave for him. The camera cuts back and forth from the detention room to the teachers' lounge, where the principal is still laughing.

Realism check: The journey to that competition isn't done with a snap of the fingers. First, one of the kids announces to Dulaine, "We scratched the two [types of music] together -- but the underbelly of the beats are the same." He's talking about fusing classy jazz vocals with grungy urban sounds. Dulaine immediately replies, "This is a beautiful idea." And boom! They're all dancing in time.

But they're doing it, and the rest of the story is being told, accompanied by a flurry of unimaginative visual segues, stories about how two of the kids -- Rock and Lahrette (Yaya DaCosta) -- have almost insurmountable problems at home, and one about the pouting, self-deprecating Caitlin (Lauren Collins), who can't stand her rich life and decides to spend time with the rejects.

The plot features many other stories that change on a whim: The kids are getting good, the kids lose interest, the kids gain it back seconds after a Dulaine pep talk. This is all too calculated; there is no clich & eacute; left unturned. And a big tango competition ends up being an exercise in utter nonsense. The last dance is -- no surprise -- a waltz. Will everything end up happy? Of course. But first, the final segments must be loaded up with a few last-minute clich & eacute;s.

Take the Lead; Rated: PG-13; Directed by Liz Friedlander; Starring Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard

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