September 25, 2009 at 1:00 am

Adam Graham Film Review: 'Fame' -- GRADE: C-

Remake of 'Fame' is just plain lame

The remade, squeaky-clean "Fame" is a step down from the original. (MGM)

Living forever ain't what it used to be.

The new "Fame" plays less like an update of Alan Parker's 1980 original than a pilot for a series on the CW -- which, given "Fame's" incarnations over the years, might not be far off.

The structure and outline is the same -- we follow a handful of hopefuls through their schooling at the New York City High School of Performing Arts -- but everything here has been scrubbed clean and disinfected for today's coddled youth. While the original carried an R rating, this one is PG.

First-time filmmaker Kevin Tancharoen struggles to flesh out the 10 characters we meet during their freshman year at PA. There's Denise (Naturi Naughton), who plays piano but wants to sing; the brooding Malik (Collins Pennie), who sneaks off to PA behind his mom's back; the shy, naive Jenny (Kay Panabaker), who has difficulty opening up in large groups; and still seven others whom we get to know only on the most perfunctory basis.

Robert Altman would have a tough time bringing all these characters together, so suffice to say, dancer-turned-director Tancharoen -- whose credits include the Pussycat Dolls' TV show -- is in over his head.

In a clever touch, the school's staff is all played by familiar faces from TV, including Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth (sorry, Fraser and Lilith don't share any scenes together), Megan Mullally and Charles S. Dutton. But except for Mullally, who is pressured into doing karaoke in front of her students in one scene, the characters aren't allowed to be more than cardboard cutouts of inspirational/ authoritative figures.

At least, there's the music, right? The original "Fame" won Oscars for Best Song and Best Score, but this one won't be following in its footsteps. Even the title song is thrown away, tacked on over the end credits.

"Fame" plays too down the middle to even be a campy delight. You'll remember its name, but only because it rhymes with "lame."

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