More Tame than Fame, this glossy reprise keeps the feel good uplift of Alan Parker’s 1980 original but downplays everything that made us earn it – the grungy urban setting, the back-breaking toil and the crushing disappointment of students not talented enough to make the grade. In short, everything comes a little too easy for the 2009 class of New York’s High School of Performing Arts, who have little between them and triumph besides the occasional tetchy parent and the odd romantic setback. Nor have they much going on inside either, their airbrushed personalities seeming as manufactured and bogus as their spearmint smiles, gym-honed bods and $200 haircuts.
Spanning four years, Fame 2.0 follows its anemic heroes – singers, dancers, actors and, er, filmmakers – as they go from freshmen to seniors, montaging their experiences into a series of polished but shallow vignettes. Some revolve around Denise (Naturi Naughton), a classical pianist who longs to release her secret Beyoncé; others involve Malik (Collins Pennié), a sullen rapper with a tragic past. Rather too many focus on Marco (Asher Book) and Jenny (Kay Panabaker), sweethearts who are as primly virginal at the end as they are at the beginning. Only slinky hoofer Alice rises above the herd, Kherington Payne being smart enough to let her curves do the talking.
Along the way they receive encouragement from their teachers, unimaginatively played by the likes of Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth and Charles S Dutton. (“The theatre is no place for cowards!” states the latter with an admirably straight face.) Really, though, you wonder why they bother. There’s not a breath of life, not a sprinkle of charisma, not a hint of rebelliousness in a faceless ensemble who don’t even get to dance on a car roof. We can forgive Fame for its reheated clichés. We can even tolerate its second-rate hip-hop. We just can’t take the timidity.
Fame costs, and right here is where we all start paying. Clearly aimed at the High School Musical crowd, with songs as bland as its fresh-faced young actors, Kevin Tancharoen’s innocuous remake is barely a footnote to its Oscar-winning predecessor.