Filmgoers won't remember this 'Fame'

Naturi Naughton is Denise, the classical pianist who longs to be a pop singer. But "Fame" devotes little time to developing characters.
Naturi Naughton is Denise, the classical pianist who longs to be a pop singer. But "Fame" devotes little time to developing characters.
Posted: September 25, 2009

Fame, the 1980 musical about students at New York City's High School for the Performing Arts, surfaced in the era of A Chorus Line and boom boxes. Equal parts confessional, aspirational, and audition, the film followed a handful of students who devoutly believed that performing is transforming. And they made us believe, too.

Fame, the 2009 remake, emerges in the era of American Idol and karaoke. As a demo reel showcasing seven promising young talents from their freshman through senior years, it's pleasant enough. As a movie dramatizing the talent and dedication required to make it, the Fame reboot has fleet feet but lacks heart.

The focus of Allison Burnett's choppy script is not the inspirational tale of how students turn self-doubt into self-expression, but the cautionary one of how vulnerable performers get suckered by casting couch and predatory producers.

So little time is devoted to developing characters that it's hard to share their hopes and fears. They include Marco (Asher Book), the happy-go-lucky singer from Queens, Jenny (Kay Panabaker), the timid actress from Long Island, and Denise (Naturi Naughton), the classical pianist who longs to be a pop singer. Laidback Book and standout Naughton almost certainly will be seen and heard from again.

The focus of director Kevin Tancharoen is on performances, not performers. A dancer/choreographer/director who has worked with Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, Tancharoen exhibits little interest in his characters' inner lives or milieu. (Mostly shot in Los Angeles, the film lacks a New York flavor and rhythm.)

Of the seven intersecting storylines, only one, that of Malik (Collins Pennie), an angry rapper/actor, shows him retooling the emotional baggage weighing him down into wings that help him fly.

From auditions, where only one in 500 applicants is admitted to the freshman class through graduation, the story hopscotches among classrooms anchored by Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, and Bebe Neuwirth. Debbie Allen, a dance instructor in the original, has been promoted to principal.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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