Whatever else Kevin Tancharoen’s re-imagining of Alan Parker’s 1980 film Fame does, it does not light up the sky like a flame. I think the term “re-imagining” is code for “dumbing down.” “Re-imagining” may sound better, but the results are unchanged. There are so many things wrong with this new Fame that it’s hard to know where to start. I suppose the basic concept is probably a good enough jumping off point.
The makers of the new version either don’t understand the Parker film, or they don’t care, or they want to cash in on the name while catering to the High School Musical crowd. Probably all three are true, though ineptitude may enter the equation, as well. Parker’s film was a reasonably realistic (in movie terms) R-rated character drama with musical numbers—numbers that, generally speaking, were not allowed to overshadow the story. The “Fame” musical number, in fact, was handled very off-the-cuff and doesn’t actually end in the traditional sense of a big number building to a climax. Parker’s Fame wasn’t so much a musical as it was a drama with songs.
The new film is scrubbed to a PG squeaky cleanliness and thinks it’s a musical—a notion that might be more tenable if the songs were in the least distinguished. Now, if you’re going to remake a movie that people remember for its songs and you’re going to junk most of those songs, it would probably be smart to replace them with songs of equal or greater merit. The two most memorable songs in the new film are “Out Here on My Own” and “Fame”—both from the original. The rest I can tell you nothing about, because I don’t remember them.
The characters here don’t deserve to be called characters. They’re types playing out clichés with no visible personalities. The movie covers a four-year span, but we don’t get to know much about the individuals in the picture beyond their quickly established types. Parker’s film took some deserved heat for the ludicrous notion of the New York School for the Performing Arts appearing to have only one gay student. The new version has half of one in the form of a not-very-talented dancer (Paul McGill) from Iowa who seems to be gay. (At least when his lack of talent rears its head, he can go back to Iowa and get married.) Frankly, he’s no less talented than the presumed lead, Jenny (Kay Panabaker), who after four years is only slightly less raw than when she sang a ludicrously bad rendition of the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” early on in the film.
There’s no real drama, and what little there is feels contrived or too easily solved (that is, when the script bothers to follow through). Characters disappear for long stretches of time and pop back up for no apparent reason, except that perhaps the writer suddenly remembered them. Too bad that the viewer may well have forgotten who they are—and probably won’t much care.
On the plus side—and there is one—director Tancharoen does have a certain flair for the musical numbers in a Baz Luhrmann manner. I don’t remember much about the music in the big finale, but directorially the scene has a lot of panache. Tancharoen also handles the auditions pretty well. And in a nice touch, the film invokes the original’s Rocky Horror Picture Show sequence by having one student audition with Little Nell’s big speech from Rocky Horror. (Though, no, she doesn’t point her nipple at us.) But that raises the question: Why settle for something that invokes Parker’s film when you could go rent or buy the real thing? Rated PG for thematic material, including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language.