Bland ‘Fame’ remake leaves little to remember
I’ll admit it. I was excited to see the remake of “Fame,” more out of nostalgia than anything else. When the 1980 original was released, followed by the popular TV series from 1982-87, I ate up every scene of singing, dancing, and teenage angst. I was too young to pick up on the more mature themes, but I can still recall the gritty, concrete-grey New York City where the students of the New York Academy of the Performing Arts chased their dreams.
Surprisingly, the new “Fame” retains most of the original’s visual urban grittiness. Ironic, since today’s New York City looks like Disneyland compared with its state in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Director Kevin Tancharoen achieves this effect using a documentary-style approach, telling the story with plenty of hand-held cameras and quick edits (sometimes causing dizziness in this reviewer).
Unfortunately, the new “Fame” doesn’t at all resemble the original when it comes to interesting lead actors. By the end credits, I had long forgotten most of their characters’ names or performances. This should have been a casting director’s dream - to canvas the country in search of breathtakingly talented youth. Perhaps the kids were too busy with their “American Idol” auditions, because they were mostly absent from this film (with one strong exception of 25-year-old Naturi Naughton, who has the voice and screen presence that should make Jennifer Hudson nervous). Instead, we are served up a group of excessively bland young actors who have some talent, but certainly not the spark that deserves such a choice film role.
In contrast, I can still talk in great detail about LeRoy (Gene Anthony Ray), a compelling character from the 1980s version, and will happily sing a terrible karaoke rendition of the Irene Cara title song if you are crazy enough to ask. Trust me, there is no song you will remember from the 2009 version.
Instead of sanitizing New York City in the remake, which would have been historically accurate, the filmmakers chose to sanitize the kids. So rather than experience the passion and agony sure to be found in the life of such driven adolescents (like the original did), “Fame” gives us angelic kids who seem to require minimal parenting and little to no nagging from teachers to do their homework. These kids work hard, generally smile a lot, and all get along with one another.
Even the primary romantic storyline veers far from teenage reality, offering up teenage sexuality by having the fresh-faced couple (Kay Panabaker and Asher Book) share just one, sweet on-screen kiss - and leaving it entirely at that. It’s understandable since the studio is clearly targeting the lucrative “tween” audience and needs a PG rating to do that. But it’s unfortunate that they chose “Fame” as its source material since it was so memorable - and rated R.
All of this character cleansing leaves us without much of a story to sink our teeth into, though the film does have moments when the kids’ joy and energy genuinely reels you in. After all, what kid didn’t yearn to be a star at one time or another? Unfortunately, the flavorless cast and lackluster storylines - and no catchy song to echo in your head for the next two weeks - make the new “Fame” something you won’t likely remember.