Fame
No wonder kids aren’t eating right these days.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/25/2009
Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Cast: Naturi Naughton, Kay Panabaker, Asher Book, Collins Pennie, Walter Perez, Paul Iacono, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Paul McGill, Charles S. Dutton, Kherington Payne, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Debbie Allen

OK. Let’s get right to it. If you aren’t familiar with the “Fame” franchise, here’s a quick synopsis. The film follows a group of kids through four years at a New York Preparatory School for the Arts. We watch their ups and downs as they meet with varying degrees of success in their chosen areas. Among the would-be stars of tomorrow are pianists Denise (Naturi Naughton) and Victor (Walter Perez), actresses Jenny (Kay Panabaker), and Joy (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle), dancer Alice (Kherington Payne), singer Marco (Asher Book), and would-be rapper Malik (Collins Pennie).

Pretty simple really. You either like these kinds of movies or you don’t. If you are looking for trifling things like character development and plot, this isn’t the movie for you. You can find all of the stereotypical character archetypes here- the diva, the perfectionist, the angry black guy with a good heart, etcetera. The actors weren’t chosen for their acting chops, so plot is kept to the bare bones. The veteran actors like Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Charls S. Dutton, and Bebe Neuwirth aren’t used much better- the teachers they play are static and uninspired.

However, if you like fun, choreographed song and dance numbers, then you’ll enjoy Fame. The singing is good, especially that of Naughton, whose tremendous solo with piano accompaniment, simply transcends the teen angst that occupies much of the story elements. As for dancing, there are two pieces that really show off the talent on display – one at a school carnival that was ultra-reminiscent of something you might see on “So You Think You Can Dance” (where Payne got her big break) and the other was Payne and a few students just nailing a sultry jazz dance sequence.

As for negatives, there’s just about every story element. They’re all very tired ideas that we’ve all seen before ad infinitum and no one (especially the younger actors) seemed to have the ability to make something more out of their characters. I do, however, credit the filmmakers for realizing that slowing down too much to hit the story elements was a bad idea and doing their best to keep that from happening too often. As the film contains a number of disparate story lines, slamming on the brakes to get all lovey dovey between classmates doesn’t really work … especially when the “actors” are far better singers and dancers.

If I had to single out the cheesiest and weekday afternoon movie leading man, it would be Asher Book. While there were a number of teeny boppers in the crowd that hooted and hollered anytime he did something on-screen, I just kept thinking that this was the long lost singing London brother (there’s a scary resemblance to Jason and Jeremy). The love story between his character and Panabaker’s always felt very awkward, maybe because she looks 13, and I would rather have lost that entire angle and gotten another dance sequence.

Still, I think the positives outweigh the negatives in this film’s case. You don’t have to think, and you probably won’t be bored, so if you are looking to turn your brain off for a few hours and reminisce about the ‘80s, this might be the one to watch this weekend. For doing exactly what it purports to do (no more, no less) I give “Fame” a 3 out of 5.