Friday, August 17, 2012

Made-in-Detroit 'Sparkle' remake delivers soulful songs, spiritual lessons - Detroit Free Press


parkle" isn't a Tyler Perry movie, but it sure feels like one. The film, shot mostly last fall in Detroit, has all of Perry's signature touches: soapy situations, ripe dialogue and some Sunday-morning sermonizing to give the whole thing a vaguely spiritual quality.

Fortunately, the mix recalls the filmmaker on one of his good days. "Sparkle" is pure melodrama, but it's a high-powered, well-acted, entertaining melodrama. You may not always believe it, but you won't be bored.

A remake of a 1976 musical drama that boasted a pre-"Fame" Irene Cara as the title character, the new "Sparkle" arrives with Jordin Sparks in the lead. In her film debut, it's a little hard to gauge how good an actress she is. She smiles radiantly, looks spectacular and sings like a dream, but the part doesn't require her to express much more than quiet determination. It will be interesting to see her stretch in future projects.

Sparkle is one of a trio of Detroit sisters in the 1960s who form a singing group that begins to rise to fame. The characters fit nicely into tidy little compartments. Sparkle is a shy songwriter. Delores (Tika Sumpter) is brainy and defiant. Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is self-destructive and sexy.

In the original, the dynamically written character of Sister pretty much steals the show from the meek Sparkle. The same thing happens here: Sparks plays demure while Ejogo struts around like sex on a stick. Prediction: If the movie is a hit, Ejogo will emerge as a star.

The gorgeous Ejogo purrs, coos and gets the meatiest story line, as Sister spirals into drug abuse and deals with an explosive boyfriend, Satin. A coked-up Sister also gets to say the movie's most delicious line: "Sister can't fly on one wing." It's a bit lifted from the original film that will have fans of camp rejoicing.

While Ejogo is wonderful, Mike Epps delivers the movie's most revelatory turn as the despicable Satin. Satin is a stand-up comic who makes his living playing for white folks in posh nightclubs. He's a charmer who's constantly on the verge of violence. With his electric mix of humor and danger, Epps' edgy performance recalls Joe Pesci at his peak. Epps is always a welcome presence, but he never has displayed this range before.

Whitney Houston served as executive producer and stars as Emma, the siblings' mother and a woman whose dream of a singing career never materialized. She's fine in an understated role, and her world-weary vocal on "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is one of the movie's highlights.

Salim Akil's direction keeps everything moving at a fast pace. He has a kinetic style that works well on musical sequences, and the film is filled with little atmospheric touches. A lovely sequence in a record store in which the camera drifts to different listening booths boasts a dreamlike quality that illustrates Akil's affinity for the material.

Despite the movie's charms, there's one nagging problem: It's wildly lopsided, and it feels as if it is named after the wrong character. There's a reason, after all, that the J.K. Rowling series of Harry Potter books wasn't named after Ron Weasley.

More Details: More on 'Sparkle' at

Jordin Sparks on Whitney Houston and the thrill of making her first movie

Detroit’s role in the movie

Detroit musician, now touring with Lady Gaga, has high hopes for


Houston celebrated in exhibit at Grammy Museum

Sparks in Royal Oak for local premiere of film

More Details: 'Sparkle'

* * *

out of four stars

Rated PG-13; mature themes, domestic abuse, drug content, violence, language

2 hours

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