This remake of the 1980 dance musical doesn't quite make it

Directed by Kevin Tancharoen. Starring Kay Panabaker, Naturi Naughton, Kherington Payne, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Debbie Allen, Asher Book, Cody Longo, Walter Perez, Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Collins Pennie, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Paul McGill, Paul Iacono, Kristy Flores. Written by Allison Burnett, based on the 1980 movie written by Christopher Gore.

On the surface, I liked quite a bit of 2009’s Fame: the music, which ranges from classical to (mostly) hip hop, the choreography, the costumes, even some of the acting, especially Collins Pennie and Naturi Naughton as talented young students, and Megan Mullally and Charles S. Dutton as their teachers.

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That said, this thing just dies up there on the screen. It’s undeniable. Too many characters, not enough plot; nothing to grab our attention and nothing for us to grasp hold of. With each passing minute, this unnecessary (and unwanted – I mean, was anyone clamoring for a remake of the 1980 film?) grows more and more redundant.

Fame throws a diverse (read: cliché) group of aspiring actors, singers, musicians, and dancers in to the melting pot of prestigious New York City High School for the Performing Arts. There´s the shy, nervous Jenny (Kay Panabaker), snobby rich girl Alice (Kherington Payne), talented but repressed Denise (Naughton), perfect Marco (Asher Book), wannabe actor Andy (Cody Longo), aspiring music producer Victor (Walter Perez), streetwise Malik (Pennie), and aspiring filmmaker Neil (Paul Iacono), with additional flavor provided by ethnic Joy (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle) and Rosie (Kristy Flores) and homosexual Kevin (Paul McGill).

Director Kevin Tancharoen unwisely attempts to give equal screen time to each of these characters, resulting in a total lack of focus; halfway through the film we´re still being introduced to these walking stereotypes. But plot threads do eventually creep in: Jenny and Marco become a couple, before Jenny turns to Andy for some career help; Malik and Victor help to bring out the repressed singer in Denise, who struggles against her strict father; Neil´s attempts to produce a short film go south. By the end of the film, the characters have barely been sketched, with no notable development after four years of schooling.

Then there´s the teachers at Performing Arts: singing instructor Ms. Rowan (Megan Mullally), dance instructor Ms. Kraft (Bebe Neuwirth), acting instructor Mr. Dowd (Dutton), music instructor Mr. Cranston (Kelsey Grammar), and principal Mrs. Simms (Debbie Allen, who played one of the teachers in the original film). Few of these characters get enough screen time to make an impression, though Mullally has a really nice scene, perhaps the highlight of film.

But there´s nothing here we haven´t seen and ultimately, Fame just goes through the motions in-between the musical numbers. Which doesn´t really work, since the film isn´t really a musical, and many of the numbers are intentionally off to showcase the lack of skill in the aspiring performers.

Pennie, who exudes the charm of a young Chiwetel Ejiofor, and (especially) Naughton, who starred as Lil Kim in Notorious, are standouts among the cast. But playing students entering high school (at least, at the beginning of the movie), they´re both ten years too old and not remotely convincing. The same can be applied to the rest of the cast, save for Kay Panabaker, who seethes adolescent anxiety, though this isn´t enough to make for a sympathetic protagonist.

This Fame remake is nicely produced, but it just doesn´t work; poor in conception, even worse in execution, it´s instantly disposable entertainment that exists in conflict with its own name and storyline. Fault lies with debuting director Tancharoen and writer Allison Burnett (Feast of Love, Untraceable), though I daresay some of the young cast will make more of a film career than their counterparts in the original.

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Also opening: Kawasakiho růže (showtimes | IMDB), the latest from director Jan Hřebejk (Pupendo, Horem pádem). Screening in Czech without subtitles in Prague.

And: Little Herkules in 3-D (showtimes | IMDB), which is dubbed in Czech for local release. 2009’s best film, The Hurt Locker, went straight to DVD in the Czech Republic, but this family film starring Judd Nelson, Elliot Gould, and Hulk Hogan, which has been sitting around for 3 years unreleased in the US, gets a semi-wide release.

Also: A Matter of Size (showtimes | IMDB), an Israeli film from directors Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor that won the Audience Award at last year’s Karlovy Vary fest. Screening in Hebrew with Czech subtitles.

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