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‘Fame’: Not Much Behind the Curtain

"You have talent," Kelsey Grammer, playing a music teacher at New York City High School of Performing Arts, says to incoming students. "Now let's see what you can do with it."

Clearly, the actors playing artsy students at the elite high school have talent. But the filmmakers behind this musical redux don't do much with those skills.

Fame offers slick entertainment with some exuberance, but it's devoid of soul or heart.

The 1980 original feature and the 1982 TV series were mostly musical soap opera. But the film, rated R, was grittier and focused on a broader range of aspirations and human struggles than this version.

The remake features more polished performances and elaborate music and dance segments. But director Kevin Tancharoen puts more energy into showcasing the talent, and on exuberant choreography and catchy tunes, than on the challenges facing these students. The bland and predictable story seems almost incidental to the showbiz angle, not unlike Disney's "High School Musical"l movies.

The musical numbers often are infectious as we follow select students through their four years. One particular musical sequence during a lunch break seems particularly preposterous, even within the fantasy world of musicals, as virtually the entire student body can't resist joining the jam session.

Grammer plays the exacting music maestro, Megan Mullally teaches singing, Charles Dutton is an acting instructor, and Bebe Neuwirth is the dance teacher. Debbie Allen, who co-starred in the original, has a small part as the school principal. Mullally has an extended scene belting out a song at a karaoke bar. It seems to exist only to remind students of the gritty reality that their dreams of stardom may not pan out. They might end up like Mullally's character, teaching and nurturing the talents of others. Or worse, teaching ballet at a dance school in Iowa, as one of the students is consigned to do. But that is about as tough as the disappointments get.

The luckiest ones get small parts on TV or a recording contract, or a spot in a dance ensemble.

Marco (Asher Book) is easygoing and grew up singing in his father's Italian restaurant, while Jenny (Kay Panabaker) is a more uptight, fledgling actress. The two embark on a romance. Denise (Naturi Naughton) defies her strict parents, who want her to be a concert pianist, to pursue a career singing R&B.

Though the musical numbers are engaging, the human stories are lacking. We get only a superficial sense of these students and a cursory idea about their development over the four years from auditions to Graduation Day.

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