The old adage is right, everything old really is new again. It’s very seldom that a genuinely new story comes out of Hollywood, or anywhere for that matter. And that’s okay. There is certainly a case to be made that some stories are so stirring, so universal and eternal that they can and will be told and re-told without any loss of power. Assuming the author’s not a complete hack, anyway.
Unfortunately the reverse is often just as true: everything new is just plain old.
Because there are just as many stories out there that repeat themselves and repeat themselves because they are easily told and digested like a McDonald’s Happy Meal, and with about as much value. I’ll give you two guesses which category the remake of “Fame” falls into, and the first one doesn’t count.
For anyone who’s seen the original, it may be hard to believe it was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but the idea is actually quite good. Take the high pressure, high creativity world of the performing arts school, throw in a bunch melodramatic elements and stir in the favored public topic of the last 25 years–how to become famous (back when it at least required talent)–and you have the makings of a better than decent soap opera on your hands. Put in the hands of a good director and you’ve probably got something better than decent. Melodrama is still drama after all; it’s all a matter of the craft involved.
The new model doesn’t have to worry about that, however. It is in every way a faded copy of the original. It follows the format of the first “Fame” pretty rigorously, separating the story into the four years the students will be at school and peppering their studies with a few moments emotional turmoil, coming-of-age angst and some insights in to the cost of the search for stature in the world. Specifically the fact (which no one really wants to hear, especially in a movie about fame) that the vast majority of aspirants simply will not make it.
That’s about where “Fame” stops, though. It’s the light teenage primetime drama version of the story. That’s certainly who it’s targeting and that’s the card it plays the whole way through. No abortions, drug use, or life of scrounging and waiting tables here.
Barring one young ingénue’s (Kay Panabaker) introduction to the idea of the ‘casting couch’ and a very few other similar instances, there’s really nothing to it at all. It’s hard to believe, afterwards, where all 120 minutes went. Far more of it is spent with tentative romances and character arcs that are set up and never, never pay off like Mr. Dowd the drama teacher’s (Charles S. Dutton) attempts to reach tortured young Malik (Collins Pennie) and help his world view.
And, of course, singing and dancing.
If there’s anything that could probably benefit from casting to type, “Fame” is it. Director Kevin Tancharoen has filled his cast with young actors who aren’t that different from the people they’re playing. Young but filled with talent and promise, singing, dancing and acting as well as any of their adult co0stars. Well singing and dancing anyway.
The pageantry really is very nice, especially the dance numbers, but as soon as the music stops, so does “Fame.” It’s not the worst remake ever made, it’s not even really very bad, just stodgily, repressively mediocre.