Fame (Lakeshore Entertainment, PG)

fame2.jpgThis remake lacks the grittiness, depth of character and raw emotion ofthe original and instead often feels like a made for Disney version –High School Musical for the New York set.

 

 

 

 

 

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As a pre-teen growing up in the early 80s, I loved the movie musical Fame and its Academy Award-winning soundtrack, and even the spin-off TV show, which ran from 1982 to 1987. I can clearly remember belting out Irene Cara’s "Out Here On My Own" in front of my mirror into my hairbrush on multiple occasions, as I’d imagine many girls my age did. 

Fast forward nearly 20 years to first-time feature film director Kevin Tancharoen’s brand new shiny remake of the acclaimed original based on the lives of a group of talented student actors, dancers, singers, musicians and filmmakers at the exclusive High School of Performing Arts in New York City. Sadly, as usually is the case, the remake never comes close to living up to the legacy of the original.

While the film is presented in a similar visual style and format as the 1980 version (with scenes broken into five labeled sections: Auditions, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior Years), this remake lacks the grittiness, depth of character and raw emotion of the original and instead often feels like a made for Disney version – High School Musical for the New York set.

This does not seem far off from the film’s intention – with a couple of its stars veterans of Disney Channel shows, including Kay Panabaker, who plays shy, innocent actress Jenny, and Anna Maria Perez de Tagle (as Joy), who played a recurring role on Hannah Montana. Newcomer Asher Book as smooth singer Marco bears a striking resemblance to a young Zac Efron.

This cleaned-up, PG version (the original was rated R) never seems to dig deep enough, and the brief glimpse into each of these students’ trials on their journey to "make it’ never develops fully enough for us to really care what happens to them.

The R rating on the original film was due to its gritty and realistic portrayal of issues like sexuality, drugs, violence, poverty, religion and abortion – seeming very true to their time and place. The kids in the 2009 version of Fame appear to live in a bubble of naivety and predictability, never evoking any real emotion and even eliciting eye-rolls now and then.

None of this is to say that the kids in Fame are not talented, at least some of them are (like standout vocalist Naturi Naughton as Denise and So You Think You Can Dance veteran Kherington Payne as star dancer Alice), but the script doesn’t allow us see it much beyond the big musical and dance performance scenes.

Even when these teens are angst-y, they don’t seem angst-y enough. None of them have the raw energy and intensity of a performer like Gene Anthony Ray, who famously played Leroy in both the original film and TV series. (In fact, a host at the screening noted that the remake is dedicated to Ray, who died after a stroke in 2003.)

 

Ironically, the actors that shine most in the movie are those who appropriately play the teachers including Broadway veteran Bebe Neuwirth as the straightforward dance teacher, Frasier‘s Kelsey Grammar as a classical music teacher, Megan Mullally as a vocal teacher and Charles S. Dutton as the acting teacher, with a special appearance by original Fame star and choreographer Debbie Allen as the school’s principal.

Director Tancharoen is dancer and choreographer himself, best known for his work with artists like Madonna and Britney Spears, which comes through in the film’s big dance sequences, particularly one filmed at the school’s Halloween "CarnEVIL" dance and the sexy, sultry "Black and Gold" highlighting Payne’s skills and stage presence in contemporary style.

For those of us old enough to have loved and fondly remember the original, the new version won’t completely live up to those expectations; but for the current generation of tweens and teens, spoon-fed on Disney talent showcases like the HSM franchise, it is likely generate a new legion of fans. B- | Amy Burger

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