The Popcorn Reel
Monday, September 28, 2009


Glittery Glory Down A Cynical Tunnel

Cast members of "Fame", directed by Kevin Tancharoen.  The film opened last Friday.  (Photo: MGM)

By Omar P.L. Moore/
Monday, September 28, 2009

In the intervening years since Alan Parker's 1980 original "Fame" movie there's been the television series of the same name, the films "Footloose", "Flashdance", "Dirty Dancing"; and "American Idol" and a host of reality television talent shows.  With "Fame" 2009, director Kevin Tancharoen gives a slight sheen to Mr. Parker's grittier (and R-rated) film, using Christopher Gore's script from the original as a template.  The problem with this 21st century version is that it tries too hard to shine, especially on the technical level.  Scott Kevan's camera rarely settles -- it's like a hyperactive toddler.  The mistake is that the performers at New York's School of Performing Arts are supposed to be the vivacious beings -- not the camera that floats like a butterfly but doesn't sting at all.  By the time Mr. Bevan's camera becomes static the film has exhausted itself, stale with faded energy and repetitious set-ups that go to predictable places.

In New York City, the kids are not alright.  Each of them hold a dream figuratively accompanied by the dollar or so that it takes them to get on the subway.  They want the spotlight but it comes with a price, whether that is na´vetÚ, abuse or other assorted schools of hard knocks.  Some of the hopefuls have parents who are so harsh they are either caricatures or from another planet -- especially the black parents.  Moreover, there's a shallow, pop-candy feel to "Fame" and the plight of those in it that make it difficult to take Mr. Tancharoen's film seriously.  Recruited to bolster a lifeless production are Debbie Allen, who was in both the original film and TV series, Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally.  Of these only Mr. Dutton and Ms. Mullally appear plugged in to their students' needs.  The younger generation of performers don't fare too badly, specifically Naturi Naughton ("Notorious") who plays a pianist seeking a larger stage for her talents.

"Fame" promises much more than it actually delivers and on the big screen looks remarkably modest for all of its early razzle-dazzle.  There's a transparency and weakness that dilutes the passion and commitment that the story written by Allison Burnett requires.  Ms. Burnett's screenplay is awfully hollow, filled with cliches and padded with poor dialogue.  A few more drafts may have been needed, but one wonders whether they would have made much difference.  Many will likely reject "Fame" because in the 30 years since the original there's so much more passion and sensationalism (for better or worse) on the airwaves.  YouTube has livelier footage of amateurs than Mr. Tanchareon's film does.  In an era of being famous for wanting to be famous (ala Phoebe Price) and instant stardom (Susan Boyle) via TV talent shows, this new "Fame" is a misfortune victimized both by its place in time as well as its low-gear express.  Let the nostalgia begin.

With: Anna Maria Perez De Tagle, Asher Book, Kristy Flores, Paul Iacono, Paul McGill, Kay Panabaker, Kherington Payne, Collins Pennie and Walter Perez.

"Fame" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association Of America for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 47 minutes.

Related: Popcorn Reel unscripted YouTube review of "Fame"

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