- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © MGM
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
lame it on nostalgia or just a complete lack of original ideas, but nearly 20 years after the release of the Oscar-winning film, “Fame,” someone found it necessary to update it for a new generation. With movies like “High School Musical” and “Step Up” already serving that niche, however, it’s about five years too late. Not that releasing it any earlier would have helped, because while the new “Fame” shares many of the same beats as Alan Parker’s 1980 original, it’s an incredibly shallow reimagining that masks what little character development still remains with a never-ending series of glossy musical numbers.
Just like the first film, “Fame” follows a talented group of dancers, singers, musicians and actors over four years at the School of Performing Arts in New York City. It all starts on Audition Day where 10,000 hopefuls are whittled down to a final class of 200. The story focuses on a handful of those students as they clash with their teachers, form new friendships, and struggle with the allure of outside opportunities that promise – yep, you guessed it – fame. Unfortunately, we never get to know any of them well enough to even care. Classical pianist Denise (Naturi Naughton), who wants to branch out musically despite her parents’ disapproval, is probably the only fully developed character of the bunch. The others, like angry rapper Malik (Collins Pennie), mousy actress Jenny (Kay Panabaker), wannabe filmmaker Neil (Paul Iacono), and conceited dancer Alice (Kherington Payne), are given bite-sized storylines that don't really go anywhere.
And that’s only half of the student characters, which also happens to be one of the many problems with “Fame.” While the original had a fairly large cast as well, each character felt fully developed. Here, they merely serve a single stereotype, with two or more characters often making up the same qualities that one had in the 1980 version. It doesn’t make sense, especially considering the movie drops certain characters from the story for long lengths of time, only for the audience to then be expected to care about them when they suddenly reappear 40 minutes later. Director Kevin Tancharoen also rolls through all four years like it’s an afterthought, and instead of the characters actually maturing over that time, they progress like it’s only been a year. They look like it too.
There are a few similarities to Parker’s film (the audition sequence, in particular, is shot almost scene for scene), but the new movie is packaged completely differently. Instead of focusing on the students’ respective journeys, it uses its half-baked plotline as a way to bridge one performance to the next. The end result is like a variety show with snippets of dialogue inserted in between, and though many of the performances are entertaining, it doesn’t add up to anything resembling a movie. Not even the great cast of veteran actors they’ve enlisted to play the teachers (like Kelsey Grammar, Charles S. Dutton, Megan Mullally and Bebe Neuwirth) are given the screen time they deserve, because Tancharoen is so busy cueing up the next number. That may be enough for fans of the performing arts, but it’s not going to help “Fame” achieve the same cult status as its predecessor. The fact that the popular theme song doesn’t appear until the end credits practically ensures it. This is one remake that is not going to live forever.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
For a movie fueled by its musical performances, you’d think that “Fame” would include a little more bonus material on its talented group of singers and dancers. Instead, there’s only one featurette on the actual making of the film (“The Dances of Fame"), while the rest of the extras include actor profiles, a music video, and footage from the national talent search. Oh yeah, and for those wondering about all that missing character development in the film – it’s been staged in the deleted scenes section.