Directed by: Salim Akil

Starring:  Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps, Derek Luke, Tika Sumpte

I was faced with a major crisis in nostalgia this weekend.  I could review The Expendables 2 which includes every 80’s action star you can imagine or I could take a walk down memory lane with the remake of the 1976 film Sparkle.  As much as I would love to see a movie that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis just for the sheer ridiculousness of it all, I chose to review Sparkle.  I’m not convinced I made the right choice.

Sparkle is the story of a group of sisters singing in Detroit, trying to make it big a la the Supremes.  Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is the youngest sister—innocent, but an incredibly talented singer and songwriter. Dolores (Tika Sumpter) is the middle sister.  She is headed to medical school and is only interested in singing to finance her education and perhaps have a little fun in the process.  Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is the eldest child.  Sister is a smoking, drinking, super sexy vixen.  She may not have the vocal chops, but she sells a song and captivates her audiences. 

The sisters, however, have a super conservative, strict religious mother Emma (played by the late Whitney Houston).  Emma raised her girls with an eye towards three ideals: respect, a good education, and a relationship with the Lord.  Emma is so focused on ensuring that her girls don’t make the same mistakes that she did, she overwhelms and stifles them with church and curfews.

One night, Sister is performing at a nightclub and Stix (Derek Luke) sees her and wants to manage the girls as a professional group.  Stix starts scheduling Sister, Dolores and Sparkle at various clubs.  At one club, Satin (Mike Epps), a famous black comedian, becomes enamored with Sister and sweeps her off of her feet.  As the group finds success, they have to deal with the condemnation of their mother, Satin’s dark influence on Sister and the lure of fame, drugs and the trappings of the entertainment industry.

While I have an incredible amount of respect for filmmakers Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, Sparkle was just underwhelming.  There are some bright spots.  Tika Sumpter gives a scene-stealing performance as Dolores—she’s smart, sassy, focused and a real delight.  Mike Epps is also pitch perfect as the rich, sleazy comedian who sells his soul for money.  Epps is sinister and makes a fantastic pivot from comedy to drama.  Whitney Houston also delivers a strong performance in her final film.  Houston’s tragic death and real life struggle with substance abuse adds an extra layer of depth to the film.  As a viewer, I could not help but be effected by seeing her onscreen, and I am sure it was bittersweet for her legions of fans.

With all of that being said, overall, I was disappointed with the film.  The problem is that this film will not only be compared to the original Sparkle, but it must also be compared to the incredibly well done 2006 film Dreamgirls. The films are simply too similar in subject matter and time period.  However, Dreamgirls had a larger budget, better music, bigger stars and was simply executed in a superior fashion.  Sparkle just seems like the less awesome version of Dreamgirls.  Moreover, although Jordin Sparks is a talented young woman, there was something missing from her performance.  She is an incredible vocalist, but she was never able to showcase her true vocal prowess.  In addition, in this particular role, she just didn’t shine like Irene Cara or Jennifer Hudson.  I was not captivated by her—but instead found the supporting cast more interesting than the title character. 

Finally, the music was incredibly disappointing.  None of the songs jumped out at me and I do not want to buy the soundtrack.  Even the classic "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" was not particularly memorable.  In a film that is about music, about the Motown sound, how can the music be underwhelming? Disappointing. 

I wavered between a weak .06 and a solid .09 on this one, but I have to go with 0.09%.  Enjoy a cosmo with the film.