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'Sparkle': Musical hits all the right notes

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
  • Jordin Sparks plays the title character, a talented singer and songwriter, in "Sparkle."

    TriStar Pictures

    Jordin Sparks plays the title character, a talented singer and songwriter, in "Sparkle."

  • Comedian Mike Epps shines both as a comic and a serious actor in "Sparkle."

    TriStar Pictures

    Comedian Mike Epps shines both as a comic and a serious actor in "Sparkle."

The 1976 movie "Sparkle" is just the kind of film that ought to be remade: it's not a classic, was not a huge hit in its day, but might have enough qualities that could be spruced up into a new version.
Plus, the title of the movie will ring a bell with fans, even if it wasn't a hit. One of those fans must have been Whitney Houston, who would have been an adolescent when the film was released.
That could explain why Houston signed on as producer and co-star of this remake, which was completed before her death in February. She's part of the appeal of this enjoyable musical, for sure.
The melodrama takes place in 1960s Detroit, where three sisters (still living at home with their mother) dream of the music business. Sparkle (played by "American Idol" performer Jordin Sparks) is the songwriter in the group, a tunesmith who doesn't crave the spotlight.
The spotlight was made for Sister (Carmen Ejogo), the eldest and brassiest of the three. She's had some hard knocks already, and she's easily led astray by the dazzle of a wealthy comedian (Mike Epps) who likes her style.
Epps, the real-life funnyman, is excellent here in both comic and dramatic moments.
The third sister is Delores (Tika Sumpter), who plans to go to med school and is just along to provide a few backup vocals and handclaps as the siblings take their shot at the music business.
And Whitney Houston? She plays the god-fearing, no-nonsense-under-my-roof mother. It's an assured turn from a performer whose own life was not always so assured, as though Houston had carefully studied the subject of domineering mothers and gotten the details down cold.
She also belts out a ringing version of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," which is basically guaranteed to bring waves of spontaneous applause. There's lots of music in the film, obviously, including a few R&B standards on the soundtrack and new songs performed by the ladies.
These musical performances are suitably torrid, if a little more suggestive than the Supremes could realistically have gotten away with in 1968. And while Jordin Sparks can warble, the sneaky star of the film is Carmen Ejogo, who burns with a really wicked fire.
Director Salim Akil gets enough things right so that the movie doesn't become a camp classic (not instantly, anyway), despite the odd timeframe and unlikely chain of events. Grade-A this movie is not, but it hits its goals with a certain grand flourish, which seems like a fitting approach to this kind of showbiz glitz.
"Sparkle" (2½ stars)
A remake of a 1976 musical, about a Sixties girl group in Detroit and their struggling career. The movie's effectively grand and melodramatic, with a scene-stealing performance by Carmen Ejogo and a fine farewell turn by the late Whitney Houston, who plays the no-nonsense mother of the singing sisters.
Rating: PG-13, for violence, subject matter
Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.
Story tags » Movies

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