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Fame (2009)
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by Peter Sobczynski

1 stars

I was about to start my review of “Fame,” the 1980 cult favorite that launched a long-running TV spin-off and the career of Irene “D.C. Cab” Cara, inspired countless viewing parties among high-school theater geeks everywhere (at least those who hadn’t yet been hipped to the joys of “The Red Shoes”) and indirectly led to any number of fairly unspeakable Debbie Allen-choreographed production numbers of dubious relevance and taste that have helped contribute to the ever-expanding running time of the Academy Awards over the years, by asking why anyone in their right mind would want to inflict another version of something that silly on a new generation of moviegoers. Of course, such a question is too facetious for words--at a time when even something as forgettable as “Sorority Row” qualifies for a remake, the only surprising thing about redoing a property with a name that familiar is that it took so long for it to happen. No, there is a far more basic and fundamental question at play here--what could a new and updated version of “Fame” possibly offer to its target audience that they haven’t already seen any number of times over the years in the likes of “High School Musical,” “Step Up,” “Save the Last Dance,” “Center Stage,” “Bandslam,” “Glee” and many other works that owe an obvious creative debt to the original? As it turns out, the answer is “depressingly little” because instead of trying to reinvent things for a new audience, the filmmakers are merely content to rehash the original in such a way that all the stuff that did work the first time around is more or less cast aside entirely while bringing the stuff that didn’t to the forefront.

Like the original, “Fame” follows a group of ambitious students at the New York School of the Performing Arts as they go through four years of training, studying, triumphs, heartbreaks dreaming about their hoped-for futures, facing their less-hopeful realities and countless acting classes in which they are forced to watch people do scenes from David Mamet plays because it gave them the opportunity to swear and smoke in the middle of class. (Okay, I may be channeling a few harsh memories of my own slightly shameful past as a theater major, so please bear with me.) Essentially, the students are going through an artistic version of basic training under the tutelage of gruff veteran instructors (played by the likes of Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton and, perhaps inevitably, Debbie Allen), which is appropriate since the film’s refusal to give any of them more than one specific characteristic makes them seem like a bomber crew from a lesser WW II movie. Malik (Collins Pennie( is the angry black kid who tries to channel his hardscrabble existence into his acting craft while hoping that his mother will be too busy working three jobs to notice that he isn’t going to a regular school. Jenny (Kay Panabaker) is a fresh-faced young girl whose desire for fame will eventually drive a wedge in her relationship with fresh-faced young boy Marco (Asher Brook), who hangs around to worry about the perils of ambition.

Kevin (Paul McGill) is a gay ballet dancer from Iowa who soon discovers that such a thing is slightly less rare in a New York-based performing academy. Alice (Kherington Payne) is a blonde dancer who looks really hot in a leotard. Neil (Paul Iacono) is either a budding bad actor or a budding bad filmmaker--the film never seems to be sure--whose plans to make a short film are gummed up by a sleazy producer. Joy (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle) is a student torn between her studies and a dream job working on “Sesame Street.” Victor (Walter Perez) is a budding record producer who tends to get lost in the shuffle a lot. Finally, there is Denise (Naturi Naughton), who is attending school in order to become a classical pianist under the strict order of her father (who is so strict that when she is offered the job of being the accompanist for the school’s production of “Chicago,” he forbids her from playing what he refers to as “that honky-tonk music”) but eventually reveals a bombastic singing voice that could eventually land her a fifth-place finish on “American Idol” if she plays her cards right.

Speaking of “American Idol,” the last few years have, of course, seen a glut of people who have achieved widespread fame from winning televised talents shows or getting huge numbers of hits on YouTube or MySpace instead of nurturing their talent through long hours of practice and discipline. If “Fame” had touched upon this schism at all--if it emphasized how much work goes into honing one’s craft--it might have both made for an interesting film and justified its existence in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, instead of doing any of that, “Fame” is content to simply repeat the key moments from the first film without any of the grit or energy that was on display the first time around. For example, we get a couple of gay students as we did last time but they are pretty much relegated to serving as afterthoughts so as not to get in the way of the hetero kids whose personal problems are presumably of more interest to the mallrats this is being aimed at. There is another scene in which a naïve girl goes out for a casting call that turns out to be a sleazy come-one, just like before, only this one is handled so badly that most viewers will be thinking less of how cruelly the victim is being treated and more about her terminal stupidity. And, just like the original, there is a scene in which the kids burst out into a “spontaneous” musical number in the middle of the cafeteria that comes across as so slick and polished that it smothers whatever energy it might have possessed had it been staged in a rougher and more realistic manner.

As you may have picked up on by now, I was not exactly a fan of the original “Fame” by a long shot but I will give it credit for a couple of things--it at least attempted to give us a genuine feel for the lives of its characters in between the musical numbers and it had, in Alan Parker, a director who, coming on the heels of “Bugsy Malone” and “Midnight Express,” had some facility in handling both full-scale musical numbers as well as the quieter and more character-driven moments. Here, the characters are so fatally bland and uninteresting that if I didn’t happen to have a cast list right in front of me, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a single one of their names if you had put a gun to my head. And while the troupe of young performers is as bland as can be, you can hardly blame them for failing to make an impression since the screenplay by Alison Burnett (the author of) never gives them anything of substance to work with--a problem aggravated by its tendency to cut away from many of its scenes before they are seemingly half over--and as a result, only the veteran performers like Grammer and Neuwirth make any impression. As for the direction from Kevin Tancharoen, I will simply state that it is exactly the kind of filmmaking that you would expect from someone whose previous credit was the reality series “The Pussycat Dolls: The Search for the New Doll.” He has so little feel for dramatic storytelling that when the film finally offers up a potentially interesting scene--a moment in which a teacher coolly and practically informs a student that they just don’t have the talent that will allow them to make a living as a performer--the whole thing just falls apart before our eyes. The musical numbers are just as unsuccessful--even the big karaoke sequence feels hollow and fake--and only two of them make any sort of lasting impression neither one does it in a good way. The first is the moment when Denise reveals her singing talent to us by busting out in a rendition of, you guessed it, “Out Here On My Own” in a sequence that is a show-stopper in the wrong sense of the word--instead of gradually letting us discover her voice, it has her going to Aguilera-like extremes right from the start. The other is the risible graduation finale, about which I will say nothing except to note that if you ever wondered what a combination of the infamous “Satan’s Alley” number from “Stayin’ Alive” and all those dreadful late-period “Our Gang” shorts where the kids would stage elaborate cabarets to inspire the locals to buy war bonds might look like, you (and practically no one else) is in luck.

Before the screening of “Fame” that I attended, the audiences was treated to performances from a couple of groups from Dance Community Chicago and while the young people performing were entertaining enough, it struck me that having them there showing off their stuff was, in the long run, probably a mistake on the part of whoever booked them. For the non-theatrical types in the audience, seeing a presentation of authentic sweat and energy and performance rhythms that hadn‘t been mucked with via rapid-fire editing or goofy deployments of slow-motion only serve to further accentuate the hollowness of what was up on the screen. As for the kids, I can‘t imagine any of them deriving any sense that the film knew anything about their own hopes and dreams, let alone the effort that it would take to possibly achieve them. Instead, all they got was two hours of pre-fab hooey and if it inspired any of them at all, it would be to just chuck it all and go to business school instead.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18358&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/25/09 00:27:12
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User Comments

10/03/12 keith miron Naturi Naughton is a great singer 3 stars
3/16/10 ya mum it made me cry cause i could feel it killing a part of my brain. 1 stars
3/14/10 Ebru Kostellekoglu its a good movie but i wouldnt rate it top dog at all 3 stars
3/12/10 oz1701 watched this with my 12 year old neice and even she found it an insult to her intelligence 1 stars
9/28/09 BoyInTheDesignerBubble It's clear nepotism is destroying Hollywood. Stop giving breaks to untalented relatives. 1 stars
9/27/09 Jacob Brilliant. 4 stars
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  25-Sep-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Jan-2010


  DVD: 12-Jan-2010

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