Sigh. Another day, another remake of a once-meaningful classic film. Granted, the original Fame was no Citizen Kane, but for its era and audience, it dealt with a lot of ground-breaking adult issues such as homosexuality, interracial relationships and abortion. Apart from that, in a decade of pretty fabulous dance films (particularly for aficionados of the cheesy ’80s pop musical such as myself), Fame was a standout for its rousing theme song, performed in the memorable ‘dancing in the streets’ scene. It was even Oscar-nominated, for God’s sake.
I’d venture to guess that Fame 2009’s director, Kevin Tancharoen, hasn’t even seen the original. Either that or he thought it’d be fun to taunt fans by making an adaptation that completely ignores everything it stood for. Oh wait, there’s also option c, the most likely rationale for making such an embarrassment of the good name of Fame – wanting to shamelessly make money off tween High School Musical fans, to the extent that you’re willing to dish out any old tat with a happy-clappy finale in it.
Whatever the reason, Tancharoen’s remake is at best an average, forgettable, Friday night Nickelodeon special-style pre-teen musical. The characters are empty, two-dimensional and bland, which is particularly frustrating as you can see some of the actors are genuinely talented and straining to give something more to their performance (particularly Notorious‘s Naturi Naughton as Denise). Due to excessive post-production cutting to get it down to the tween-friendly 107 minute length, or perhaps just plain idiocy, veterans Kelsey Grammer and Megan Mullally are severely underused in their teacher roles. And Kay Panabaker and Asher Book are damn overused – their cheesy on-off romance is placed at the centre of the film in an attempt to cast them as the poor man’s Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Unfortunately, they have about a tenth of the latter two’s personalities and screen presence.
There are brief, fleeting moments of what could almost be called engaging cinema. Naughton’s piano solo scene is reminiscent of Jennifer Hudson’s surprise powerhouse turn in Dreamgirls. Kherington Payne’s dramatic dance to Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold is rendered even more powerful by its juxtaposition against struggling student Kevin (Paul McGill) getting his dreams of professional dance success shattered. But even these scenes struggle to be memorable when smothered by the blandness of the film in its entirety.
Most shocking of all is the decision to completely leave out the trademark theme song, which has been reworked into an R&B version performed by Naughton for use in…the closing credits. We hear a few teasing bars as the film opens, and then it never appears again until everyone’s exiting the cinema. The only nod to any kind of reworking of the famous street dancing scene in the original is a lame cafeteria scene which, in true soft drink commercial style, starts out with one person unconsciously tapping a beat on the table and somehow, ‘spontaneously’, leads to a full-on multi-layered musical number.
It’s a sad fact that for every interesting remake of a classic film or book that works, such as the recent Fantastic Mr. Fox, there are 10 more that are abysmal, disgraceful and humiliating. And so, with a satisfying thud, I throw Fame onto pile number two. There. Now let us never speak of it again.
Fame Music Video
Remember My Name – Character Profiles
Fame National Talent Search Finalist
The Dances of Fame