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The dance ensemble performs at graduation in Fame, in theatres Sept. 25, 2009.

Saeed Adyani/© 2009 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. and Lakeshore EntertainmentGroup LLC.

2 out of 4 stars

Country
USA
Language
English

Fame

  • Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
  • Written by Allison Burnett
  • Starring Naturi Naughton, Kay Panabaker, Asher Book, Paul Iacono, Kherington Payne, Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer and Charles S. Dutton
  • Classification: PG

Fame is being promoted as a remake of the 1980 film, where, to paraphrase its most famous song, performing-arts students learned how to live forever. No, they didn't turn into vampires. They became dancers, actors, musicians and singers - a brazen gang of tough and tender little showstoppers.

Of course, since then there have been so many young-adult theatrical movies and TV shows - Rent, High School Musical (1-3), Garth Drabinsky's recent Triple Sensation - that it feels like student shows have never really stopped.

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Even if you're weary of plucky little showstoppers, you won't mind the first half hour of the Fame do-over. The youngsters are familiar types: the kid from Iowa lost in New York, an angry poet hiding from himself, and a downy innocent who needs to have her goody two shoes scuffed a bit.

Still, they're a talented bunch, and director Kevin Tancharoen, a former dancer, indulges himself (and them) in a fast, furious opening montage that allows the dozen or so cast members to sing, dance and mess around. It's all choreographed, but many of the numbers have the loose, improvisational feel of a good jazz jam session. Or maybe a cast party where everyone lets down their hair.

Perhaps the young performers are in such a good mood because they're liberated from having to play straight-as-a-ruler teen melodrama.

If so, give them credit for not letting their disappointment show through the rest of the movie, a wearying pile-up of conventional backstage dramas, up to and including the scene where the kid who can't talk to her parents, learns, in her big production number, to communicate with them in song.

Particularly gruelling are the scenes where parents have the audacity to question their kids' showbiz ambitions - scenes with italicized dialogue that invariably go like:

"Who in the world told you that you were so special?"

"You did, Mom."

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Theatrical revues end up being audition tapes for young, would-be stars. And the new Fame serves up some interesting new faces. Kherington Payne, a former contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, kills in a couple of numbers. And surely some boy band can use a tenor like Asher Book, who offers a lovely, off-hand reading of the Gershwins' cotton-candy ballad Someone to Watch Over Me .

Showbiz tales are also good showcases for venerable warhorses. Maybe the best music performance here belongs to former Will and Grace co-star Megan Mullally, who completes a likable turn as a voice teacher by burning down a karaoke house with Rodgers and Hart's You Took Advantage of Me .

Which brings us to the final complaint about Fame . Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwin brothers are hardly up-and-coming tunesmiths. There are six new songs in the remake, but not one makes any impact, or is likely to end up as the ring tone of 2010.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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