Review: 'Sparkle' sputters amid mushy melodrama
This undated film image released by TriStar Pictures shows Jordin Sparks in a scene from "Sparkle." (AP Photo/TriStar Pictures - Sony, Alicia Gbur)
"Sparkle" is like a box of July Fourth sparklers. It sizzles briefly whenever people open their mouths to sing, flames out, then flashes to life again when someone lights another musical sparkler.
In between, when people open their mouths to talk, the characters mostly are like burned-out sparklers — stiff, inert, disposable metal sticks.
Not really the way we'd like to remember Whitney Houston or welcome a gifted singer such as Jordin Sparks to the big-screen. But the main attraction of "Sparkle" is the glitter and glamour, and in that it delivers, compensating somewhat for the bad melodrama and bad acting in a bad story of a Supremes-style sister act on the late 1960s Motown scene.
A remake of the 1976 movie, "Sparkle" was a passion project for Houston, also an executive producer on the production. Her death on the eve of the Grammys in February turned the movie into a memorial of sorts, but her performance as a disapproving mom is slight, while the one solo number she sings is blah, a sad reminder of another glorious voice gone gruff with time and hard living.
This undated film image released by TriStar Pictures shows Whitney Houston in a scene from "Sparkle." (AP Photo/TriStar Pictures - Sony, Alicia Gbur)
In the title role, "American Idol" winner Sparks has an innocence and earnestness, wide eyes filled with hope and decency, a blazing smile, that beautiful singing voice. And then she has to go and talk, in flat, breathless tones, infusing Sparkle with all the conviction of a drama club diva with her first lead in a school play.
Sparks is surrounded by veteran actors who, while not at their best, at least know how to mug their way through a lurid story filled with silly people and preposterous turns. While constantly upstaged by her co-stars, Sparks also gets shafted by the action itself as director Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom") and his wife, screenwriter Mara Brock Akil, leave her on the sidelines, a big-hearted wallflower watching everyone else have fun and do the heavy lifting.
So you have a movie called "Sparkle," about an aspiring singer and songwriter named Sparkle, who is background noise to her own story.
Sparkle's the youngest of three sisters raised by stern, religious Detroit businesswoman Emma (Houston), who had a taste of musical success in her youth, got burned badly, and now wants nothing but the straight-and-narrow for her girls.