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.