dir Salim Akil
scr Mara Brock Akil
prd Debra Martin Chase, TD Jakes, Curtis Wallace
with Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, CeeLo Green, Curtis Armstrong, Terrence J, Tamela Mann, Michael Beach
release US 17.Aug.12, UK 5.Oct.12
12/US TriStar 1h56
Sister and her sisters: Sumpter, Ejogo and Sparks

houston luke epps
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Sparkle This remake of a 1976 drama tells the story of three sisters trying to find fame as musicians. Through a series of successes and tragedies, the film keeps us entertained even if it never manages to say anything new.

In 1968 Detroit, Sister (Ejogo) is willing to do whatever it takes to become a star while her more-talented songwriting sister Sparkle (Sparks) backs her up. Their pious mother (Houston) is protective and disapproving, but not naive as she watches Sparkle falling for fast-talker Stix (Luke), who introduces her to the music scene. Soon he's managing their Supremes-like girl group, Sister and Her Sisters, with Sister backed by Sparkle and their more-studious sister Dee (Sumpter). But can Sparkle ever emerge from the much more glamorous Sister's shadow?

The film has a cheesy-soapy tone that plays on the girls' rebellion against their religious subculture, as represented by their failed singing-star mother. Sister has two men chasing her: the poor but devoted Levi (Hardwick) and the much flashier performer Satin (Epps), who soon turns out to be a drug-addled brute. Yes, it's as obvious who she should choose as who she falls for. Meanwhile, Sparkle's relationship with Stix develops according to the usual movie formula.

Ejogo walks off with the film in the only role that bristles with feisty personality and sexual chemistry. By contrast, Sparks is a plain Jane who, like her character, has to wait a long time before she gets her abrupt chance in the spotlight. At least her chemistry with Luke is endearing. Meanwhile, Houston powerfully nails her character's regret, made especially poignant by Houston's real-life fate. And it's great to see her stop the show with a belting rendition of His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

The husband and wife filmmakers keep things lively, touching briefly on serious issues from the period's racial turmoil to domestic conflicts. The plot follows the well-worn path of rags to riches to despair to redemption, peppered with melodramatic events and, most importantly, fabulous musical numbers. It doesn't have the focus or skill of Dreamgirls (which has essentially the same plot), but it's thoroughly watchable. And since it contains Houston's final film performance, it's actually more than that.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 23.Sep.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall