“Fame” flops

This remake attempts to modernize the seminal 1980 version but instead just disappoints with Disney-fied glitter.

24-year-old Naturi Naughton plays high schooler Denise in 2009s version of Fame. PHOTO COURTESY MGM

24-year-old Naturi Naughton plays high schooler Denise in 2009’s version of “Fame.” PHOTO COURTESY MGM

by Kara Nesvig

âÄúFameâÄù DIRECTED BY: Kevin Tancharoen STARRING: Naturi Naughton, Asher Book, Megan Mullally RATED: PG SHOWING: Area theaters Though none of its stars turned out to light up the sky like a flame, the 1980 film âÄúFameâÄù has endured for years as a touchstone of the movie musical and the last hurrah of the lauded realism of âÄô70s-era cinema. But the times have changed and the remake machine continues to roll down the track. Now, itâÄôs grabbed âÄúFameâÄù in its cold, money-hungry clutches and turned it into something incredibly disappointing for fans of the brilliant original. Upon seeing its remake, itâÄôs impossible not to compare each character and situation to the prior film. Who would play sheltered, nerdy Doris? Live wire Ralph? Superstar Coco? Dancing machine Leroy? And the answer is, well, none of these new kids quite measure up to their predecessors. TheyâÄôre too pretty and innocent. âÄúFameâÄù is set at the prestigious New York Academy of Performing Arts, where high school students are taught the skills theyâÄôll require to build a life as a performer as well as a rigorous academic schedule. We follow a small crop of freshman kiddos as they set out on their path to fame, from shy Jenny to classical pianist-turned-singer Denise and actor/rapper Malik. As the years go by, each student hones their craft, builds relationships and gets their face ground in the dirt, just as the industry promises. But proving that fame and fortune arenâÄôt easy and that stepping stones can also be hurdles both personally and professionally is where the 2009 version fails. The first âÄúFameâÄù was coming out of the gritty âÄô70s movie-making years and retained that hard-edged view of life and the world. The streets of New York werenâÄôt shiny and promising but dirty and scary; the students werenâÄôt beautiful and the issues they faced were real: rape, coming out, abortion. Its director Alan Parker handled that with an honest, unflinching hand. In 2009, âÄúFameâÄôsâÄù content has been sanitized, most likely to make it appeal to a broader audience. Set Miley, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers in the starring roles and itâÄôd feel perfectly at home on the Disney Channel. The issues pressing on these fresh-faced innocents compared to the former are hills vs. mountains. Maybe their breakups, bad grades and broken promises are more relatable to teenagers who will watch today, but it feels too slick and glittery to satisfy. Since the movie focuses on about eight students versus the 1980 versionâÄôs five, the quick pace doesnâÄôt allow us to fully care about them and they fall into the trap of one-dimensional characterization. Of course, for mid-rate dancer Kevin (Paul McGill) to come out as gay is different nowadays than it was for his 1980 counterpart. But then, Kevin doesnâÄôt actually come out; the wardrobe department thought they could accomplish that by adding Gucci trim to his graduation gown. Even though in the cultural mindset âÄúmale dancer = gay,âÄù all of a sudden Kevin goes from shy Iowa boy to the token gay character, though his dressing style is all weâÄôve got to clue us in. Dodging the task of explicitly addressing the issue makes this version feel weak. Even the musical numbers are lacking in contrast to the original. ThereâÄôs no celebration in the street, dancing on cars, nor the raw prettiness of a solo ballet. And their lunch hour âÄúHot LunchâÄù ditty was replaced by some faux hip-hop bleh. Apparently, âÄúFameâÄôsâÄù creative team thought making the movie more âÄústreetâÄù for 2009 would make it relevant. Even the title song has been âÄú2009-ized,âÄù adding Naturi NaughtonâÄôs over-the-top vocals and subtracting any actual emotion. Dancer (her title remains âÄúdancer,âÄù because she canâÄôt act to save her life) Kherington Payne as rich girl Alice steals her scenes because sheâÄôs so over-the-top sexy while encased in leotards that you canâÄôt look away, but the dance numbers are slick and ultra-choreographed, lacking the spontaneity of ParkerâÄôs film. âÄúFameâÄù does have its moments, one courtesy Megan Mullally as drama teacher Fran, who does a star turn at the karaoke microphone. There are a few clever references to the original, like a âÄúRocky HorrorâÄù monologue, that serve as a reminder of its enduring legacy. The kids, mostly unknowns, are talented young performers. Perhaps, were movie studios not so preoccupied with shining and sanitizing remakes, âÄúFameâÄù could have been as enduring as its predecessor. But as it is, itâÄôs just another mediocre trifle, a popcorn movie that doesnâÄôt last after youâÄôve thrown away the bag.