September 28th, 2009 5:33 pm | by KELLY CLARKE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

We're Not Gonna Remember Most of Your Names: Fame Reviewed


Fame was screened for critics after Wednesday's newspaper went to press. Since I spent the majority of my childhood in tights and spandex (for dance class, don't get any weird ideas), Screen Editor Aaron Mesh volunteered me to review it.

When it came time for a remake of Alan Parker's 1980 drama about kids striving at a New York performing arts high school, the crew behind the new Fame flick tried to get the details right: They strove to capture the quasi-documentary feel of the original; updated the jazzy, earnest songs with a hip hop backbeat; hired amazing young singers and talented dancers—the kind we already root for on So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol every season. But they forgot to make sure any of their pack could act—or to give their poor, unfortunate starlings a single scene of real drama to work with.

Lazy and unimaginative, Allison Burnett's script may have been created by plucking cards scrawled with dance movie clichés out of a hat and marrying them to coming-of-age and race tropes. You're black? Bam!—your parents aren't happy with your choices in life, whether they're a pair of successful, uptight classical music buffs who don't feed your passion for Lauren Hill-esque vocals or (and I'm serious, this is a plot line) your progress as an actor is being impeded by your bottled-up anger toward your absentee crackhead dad and tired mom who works three jobs just to make ends meet (played, with great skepticism by Michael Hyatt—D'Angelo's mom on the The Wire). Asian? It's Sesame Street for you.

Some of these plot devices were present in one way or another in the original film—which, let's be honest, wasn't all that mind-blowing either. But, c'mon, we haven't moved forward in terms of storyline in nearly three decades? And forget about director Kevin Tancharoen exploiting any of the newer, fun clichés of high school movies. Neither bitchy cliques nor sex beyond first base exist at the New York Academy of Performing Arts. And much like the oddly straight-centric ballet flick Center Stage, queer kids don't sing or dance at this school. One male character does wear a Gucci gown to graduation; that's as gay as this performing arts school gets.

The film unfortunately revolves in large part around the trials and struggles of Jenny Garrison (Kay Panabaker), a sour, self-absorbed ninny of a would-be actress who emotes by drawing her eyebrows together into a deep cleft—like a human Van Halen symbol. Fame's obstacles—including a film production scam, near suicide and an honest to goodness casting couch—are so rote that I found my crying by the end of the film because I kept rolling my eyes so hard. It hurt.

The film does manage a few entertaining moments, primarily thanks to the pipes of classical turned hip hop diva Denise (Naturi Naughton, last seen at Lil' Kim in Notorious) and the downright illegal moves of hot mess contemporary dancer Kherington Payne—who actually was a Top 10 contender on So You Think You Can Dance in 2008. The original movie's memorable “Hot Lunch Jam” sequence, where kids burst into song and dance in the school's cafeteria, has also survived—complete with a rap battle and some virtuoso tap dancing.

The academy's faculty provides other highlights, played with great, lip-smacking condescension by Kelsey Grammar, Megan Mullally and Charles S. Dutton (who gets a wide vaiety of lines: “The theater is not a place for cowards, Malik.” “This is the theatre, not the street, Malik.” “Everything you want to change about yourself, that's your power, Malik.”). One major oddity? The film also features Bebe Neuwirth (a Broadway vet and Fosse dancer who originated the role of Sheila in A Chorus Line, starred in both lead roles in Chicago and played Dr. Lilith Crane on Cheers and Frasier) yet never once lets her sing or dance. Apparently, it's not cool to show kids what fame actually looks or sounds like. They might quit while they're ahead. PG. Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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