I'm going to come right out and say it: the 2009 remake of Fame is a far more entertaining movie than the 1980 original. While the new version did not receive any Oscar nominations (the original received six and won two), the energy level is far higher - especially in the film's spunky first half. The recently released Blu-ray edition boasts an extended cut that is 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version. Having seen both, I can confidently say that the extended version is superior as it fleshes out characters that once received short shrift.
The lengthy opening features a group of young hopefuls auditioning for a chance to attend New York's High School for the Performing Arts. This includes drama, music, and dancing. These early scenes buzz along at a brisk pace. We meet the primary students who will be focused on throughout the story. Some are cocksure and think they're ready to take on the world. Others are more reserved and unsure about their level of talent. These kids have to learn to balance their desire for fame and fortune with the discipline required to truly master their craft. Unfortunately, the various subplots are a little predictable and things end up getting fairly soapy.
The young cast mostly tackles their roles with real verve. Naturi Naughton emerges as the true star. She plays Denise, a gifted concert pianist who really wants to be an R&B singer. Her overbearing father wants none of that, insisting she concentrate fully on classical music. But it turns out she has a powerhouse voice and pursues singing with another student, Malik. Played convincingly by Collins Pennie, Malik is an actor with a talent for rapping. He and Denise put a music group together and covertly work on an extracurricular show.
Another standout is season four So You Think You Can Dance finalist Kherington Payne, making her debut as an actress. Exuding pure sex appeal and unflappable confidence, Payne plays contemporary dancer Alice with star-making energy. Alice is significantly shortchanged by the script, but Payne manages to work wonders with the underwritten role. She is given a rather half-baked romance with a music student named Victor (Walter Perez) and some vague suggestions of emotional problems. But it's during her dancing scenes where she commands the screen and leaves a lasting impression.