Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Carmen Ejogo, Curtis Armstrong, Cee-Lo, Derek Luke, Omari Hardwick
Directed by Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom)
The late, great Whitney Houston appears and performs in Sparkle. That will be the lasting impact of this movie, despite a solid first-time acting gig by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. The movie itself - a remake of the 1976 film starring Irene Cara - is a forgettable mess, with clunky dialogue and direction. But none of that really matters, nor should it. It's all about Whitney.
Jordin Sparks plays Sparkle, one of three sisters (along with Sister, played by Carmen Ejogo and Dolores, played by Tika Sumpter) who sneak out at night to perform in smoky night clubs circa the 1960s in Detroit. Whitney Houston is their over-protective mother. The story follows these young starlets and their rise to fame as Motown sensations. Like we've learned from any episode of VH1's Behind the Music, with fame comes the inevitable downward spiral into drugs and despair. It's the story of Sparkle, but it's impossible to not draw parallels to the career of Whitney Houston.
Houston's character in fact, spouts life lessons to her daughters throughout the film, about the danger of consuming too much of the fame and glory. She acts as a cautionary tale to her children. It's a spooky thing to behold.
The material here is not much to work with, and there shouldn't be any posthumous awards given out this Fall. But if the screenplay is a below-average, cluttered mess, the performances of Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps and Whitney Houston elevate it to at least a passable, cluttered mess.
There is one scene, late in the film, where Whitney Houston shines. Her raspy voice heard throughout the movie makes you wonder of her condition as you watch her on screen. But in a church, all by herself, Whitney belts out the gospel tune "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," and it is powerful, riveting. One would think that the scene would have probably been cut down had Whitney still been with us, since the scene doesn't really fit into the film. But she is left to sing the entire song. See this film simply for this performance. What an amazing way to remember Whitney moving forward.
It's nearly impossible to view this film as anything but a swan song to Whitney. It's a cliche-ridden and at times uncomfortably bad movie. But it will forever be linked with a real-life tragedy that is hard not to think about.
On the bright side though, as time passes and there is some separation, it will also be seen as an incredible showcase for an amazing rising star, Jordin Sparks. Her voice is brilliant, and she turns in a credible acting performance as well. In that way, Sparkle isn't the last performance of a legendary pop icon, but the first film appearance of a future one.
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