Sparkle Fizzles Falling Short of its Hype, But Houston Performed Superbly

When Whitney Houston joined up with Debra Chase in the mid 1990’s to produce movies centering around music. At the time Houston was at the apex of her extraordinary career. She had already proved she could engender box office success with the release of “The Body Guard.” But what nobody had quite predicted the brilliance and universal appeal of the movie’s soundtrack. So when Chase and Houston became partners in 1995, they set their sights towards making movies that would resonate with the African American community.

Just a few years following their initial union, the team considered remaking the 1970’s movie “Sparkle,” when Houston phoned Chase as asked “what do you think about remaking “Sparkle?” Chase replied, “you know it’s one of my favorite movies, that’s a great ideal.”

The project stalled after the untimely death of Aaliyah, who was scheduled to star in the film.

Now, in its opening weekend, the film emerges as a reminder of the comeback that could have been if Houston were still alive today.

“Sparkle” tells the story of a 19-year-old innocent young woman growing up in late 1960′s Detroit, who dreams of becoming a music star. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dee (Tika Sumpter) are sisters who love each other fiercely, but each have their own ambitions. When they form a girl group and set out to take the music world by storm, the harsh realities of the spotlight take their toll on the girls and threaten to tear apart the tight knit family, which also includes their less than supportive mother (Whitney Houston). The film also stars Derek Luke,Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick and CeeLo Green.

The movie was engineered as a vehicle for pop starlet Jordin Sparks. But it serves as a curtain call for Whitney Houston, who postponed her tragic self-destruction long enough to deliver one last reminder of a career that might have been.

When the late Houston isn’t upstaging the title character, the bombshell Carmen Ejogo (“The Brave One”) is. As the sultry siren “Sister,” lead singer to Sparkle, Ms. Sparks’ songwriting sibling, Ms. Ejogo makes sure nobody is watching Sparkle whenever these three sisters (Tika Sumpter is the third) take the stage. Ms. Ejogo plays this prodigal dish as sex incarnate, a gold digger with bad decisions to burn.

Sparkle needs Sister to front her group, to get across her songs. It’s 1968 Detroit, and if they can get noticed, they might get Berry Gordy to sign them to Motown Records.Stix (Derek Luke) is the fast-talking promoter who might make that happen. And he might spark to Sparkle, too.

“My momma’s got a gun,” Sparkle warns him. But that’s not nearly as scary as Houston’s fearsome scowl. She keeps the reins tight on her girls. Sparkle has a future. Dolores (Ms. Sumpter), the curt, spunky one, is headed to medical school. Maybe Sister can marry a doctor.

Men chase the girls, including a groundbreaking comic, given a sold-out-and-he-knows-it edge by Mike Epps. The girls chase their dreams. Their momma, who had her own big voice and big plans once, lectures them: “Was my life not a cautionary enough tale for you?”

The new songs don’t clash terribly with the vintage music from the era included on the soundtrack. There are anachronisms in the stage act and costumes (way too racy for the era) and the dialogue. But for the most part, this is a perfectly serviceable version of a time-worn tale, entirely too long.

This production by the preacher T.D. Jakes, who parlayed his ministry into a movie-producing career (“Jump the Broom” came from the same team), is almost a half hour longer than the ’76 “Sparkle.”

Ms. Sparks is a perfectly good pop singer in the modern post-Whitney histrionic mold. But she lacks screen charisma. We should feel more when Stix offhandedly tells her that he sees her as “backup,” not the lead. Teamed up with Ms. Sumpter (great timing) and Ms. Ejogo (gorgeous, vulnerable), Ms. Sparks shrinks into the background the way Selena Gomez did in her first “adult” role.

With a name like Sparks and a title like “Sparkle,” that’s what you expect her to deliver. However, she is over her head in this one and the only thing that sparkles is the brilliance that Houston brings to the screen.

Houston’s performance clearly stood out, although not Oscar material unless her field of competition proves to be weak.

However, the analogy was not meant to take anything from Houston’s performance which proved that this could have been the first step not merely in a comeback but in a major re-invention. as one review accurately stated, “She had the instincts of a superb character actress.”

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