September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naturi Naughton, Kay Panabaker, Walter Perez
Directed by: Kevin Tancharoen (debut)
Written by: Allison Burnett (“Untraceable”)

Dance movies are a dime a dozen, so there has to be a better reason that MGM Studios decided to modernize the 1980 version of the high school musical “Fame” other than to make it fashion statement by getting rid of the headbands and hot pants. Sadly, “Fame,” without much characterization or attentive direction, leaps right off the stage as another simple-minded and meager addition to the subgenre. 

“Fame,” which spawned a TV show and off-Broadway musical after the success of the original film, follows the talented students of a performing arts academy in New York City where – each year – 200 out of 10,000 applicants to the school are accepted to hone their skills in dance, music, and drama.

In the new version, screenwriter Allison Burnett (“Untraceable”) loses grasp of her characters from the start. First-time director Kevin Tancharoen adds to the miscues by allowing Burnett’s thin script to place too many characters on a pedestal and not tapping into any of their promising personalities.

Instead, everything about “Fame” comes in waves of clichés. For beginners, there’s Denise (Naturi Naughton), the classical pianist who really wants to be an R&B singer but whose parents disapprove; Celia, the little-singer-that-could who must find her passion for her craft if she wants to succeed; Malik (Collins Pennie), the inner-city drama student who lets his emotions get the best of him; and Victor (Walter Perez), a Hispanic kid with raw talent who must learn that discipline will make him a better musician.

If you think that’s all the characters Burnett and Tacharoen have up their sleeves, your right. The rest are in their back pockets. Along with a few more students following their own impossible dreams, it’s the instructors – Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Megan Mullally – that make up the rest of the roster and end up being the best parts of “Fame.”

While the students are off having an uninspired impromptu dance-off in the cafeteria, it’s the teachers making the most sense and delivering the least obvious dialogue of the two groups. A scene where voice instructor Fran Rowan (Mullally) takes some of the students to a karaoke bar and then proceeds to explain why dreams don’t always come true for everyone is significant. But there simply aren’t enough of those moments. And when Burnett attempts to reveal more of the younger characters, they come off transparent and melodramatic.

You’ll definitely realize how much the kids went through the motions when the credits role and each is given a few seconds to wow us with some dance moves before a title card flashes up with their names. Besides their artistic abilities, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember what made any of them special in the first place.


January 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit (“Fracture”)
Written by: Robert Fyvolent (debut), Mark Brinker (debut), Allison Burnett (“Autumn in New York”)

Not everything about the new tech-thriller “Untraceable” is ridiculous and worthy of deletion, but most of it is. If there is a saving grace it must be Diane Lane, who could thrive in this genre if there was a workable screenplay to match what the classic beauty can do as an actress.

It happened in 2002 when Lane was nominated for her first Oscar in the dramatic thriller “Unfaithful.” In that film, Lane peeled back the layers of Connie Sumner, a wife and mother emotionally torn between her family and her lover.

In “Untraceable,” it’s the screenwriters (three of them to be exact), who are doing most of the cheating. Two newbies and the writer behind the sad and sappy film “Autum in New York” is an unusual combination that falters around the time the picture should kick into high gear.

It’s simple enough to guess from the title of the movie that either someone or something can’t be found. Turns out the missing link is a murdering computer geek who has created a Web site (killwithme.com) where visitors can assist in the killing of one of his victims by simply logging on.

It doesn’t seem like much to worry about at first for FBI Cyber Crime detective Jennifer Marsh (Lane) and her team of Portland-based Internet-browsing personnel. The killer makes his presence known by offing a kitty (don’t all serial killers have a history of animal violence?) on the World Wide Web. But when he starts kidnapping actual humans and rigging them to his computer system, Jennifer must do everything she can to find the whereabouts of the sadist before he broadcasts another death.

Where the film could have possibly made some sort of statement on the media’s influence on society and the curiosity the everyman has with violence (they mention the video of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, which made its rounds on the net back in 2002), “Untraceable,” instead, goes for basic clichéd scenes where FBI agents knock down doors and come up empty. Why not just call it “CSI: Portland” and save us a trip to the theater? Plus, once the identity of the killer is revealed fairly early in the film (and you realize that, in fact, he is as dorky as any stereotypical computer programmer with an evil grin), there’s no reason to invest in the film especially if you’re the type of moviegoer who craves the unobvious.

Transparent and less shocking than the film thinks it really is, “Untraceable” is nothing more than a high-tech torture flick that’s heavy on the gore and light on the logic.