Whitney's 'Sparkle' doesn't shine

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:47 PM ET

Sparkle is a remake of a 1976 movie about the rise of a girl group and the exigencies of fame. The original film was set in Harlem in the late 1950s and featured a soundtrack of Curtis Mayfield songs (sung by Aretha Franklin on the soundtrack LP).

This time out, Sparkle stars Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter as the singing siblings. In her final film performance, Whitney Houston plays the girls' mother, a former singer herself who disapproves of their ambition and fears for their future.

The tale is now set in '60s Motown, and there are other changes in the story and the music; the rags-to-riches element, for example, is somewhat deflated by a new, middle-class background for the sisters. It's a small alteration, perhaps, but one that ensures that other elements of the plot make no sense at all. Never mind.

Though sometimes hokey and melodramatic, this Sparkle is probably as big a crowd-pleaser as the original. The three women pursue their singing careers despite their mother's fierce disapproval, as follows: Ejogo smoulders as Sister, the ambitious beauty who falls victim to fame when she uses a wealthy local celebrity (Mike Epps) to get ahead; Sparks is Sparkle, the younger sister whose songwriting skills take her from ingenue to star; and Sumpter is Dee, the sensible sister with an academic future.

Also in the cast are Derek Luke as Sparkle's boyfriend and career support and Omari Hardwick as Levi, the boyfriend Sister throws over as her rise to stardom begins. As well, Cee-Lo Green wanders through the story. All the actors do well, despite the material.

This new version of Sparkle has problems. Neither the narrative nor the music helps offset the fact that Houston's career was on the wane. The story is simplistic and the characters never become fully three-dimensional. That probably won't stop you from rooting for the dedicated Sparkle or fearing for the reckless Sister.


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