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'Sparkle' Still Sparkles

Dorothy Rowley | , WI Staff Writer | 8/23/2012, 5:09 p.m.

When Whitney Houston died in February leaving behind the legacy of a 35-year career, her grieving fans eagerly awaited the release of her big screen curtain call, "Sparkle."

Now that the updated version of the 1976 hit is in theaters, Houston's devout cheerleaders are able to get one more up-close-and-personal view of the iconic star, who in this ironically cautionary tale, delivers a notable performance as hard-nosed Emma - a prim and proper church lady determined to keep her three daughters away from the harsh realities of the music industry.

"Sparkle," produced by Salim Akil and T.D. Jakes, focuses on big-dreamer Tammy "Sparkle" Anderson, played by Jordin Sparks, who along with her two older sisters, form the group, "Sister and Her Sisters" and become show-stopping headliners in 1960s Detroit.

But on their way to success, the tightly-knit trio is confronted by several challenges, some of which are the same that cut short their bitter, yet protective mother's singing career. Those situations mirror the abuse oldest sibling, Sister, encounters at the hand of her troubled boyfriend Satin whose character is superbly played by Mike Epps.

Sparks' character, portrayed in the original movie by Irene Cara, comes across as an initially shy, but sweet girl who is a gifted vocalist. The only problem is that she prefers to write songs for her gorgeous oldest sibling - the group's lead vocalist played by Carmen Ejogo.

Although Sparks' acting can be best described as mildly plausible, her biggest failing is a lack of depth and range of emotions that were so adeptly nailed by Cara. Nevertheless, Sparks shows no restraint letting loose later in the film when she exemplifies the vocal ability that won her the "American Idol" title in 2007.

Just as Lonette McKee did in the original, Ejogo delivers a riveting, alluringly sexy, performance as Sister, who unlike Sparkle and middle sibling Delores, is openly defiant to their mother. Actually, while Sparks is the one who was supposed to take center stage in the movie, Ejogo's acting clearly outshines Sparks'. Meanwhile, as Delores "Dee," played by Tiki Sumpter, fully embraces the benefits of music stardom, she holds fast to her dream of attending medical school.

Also worth mentioning is Derek Luke [of "Antoine Fisher" fame] who provides a commendable performance as the group's straitlaced manager, Stix. He's the one who guides Sparkle out of her shyness, in the process projecting believable chemistry between them as an on-and-off-again couple.

Even with the slightly impaired rendition of Houston's rapsy voice "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and the grand number Sparks belts out at the end of the two-hour movie, the latest "Sparkle" presents nothing new detailing recording groups and artists' trek to fame and fortune.

To put it bluntly, we've seen it all before in the likes of "Dreamgirls" and "What's Love Got to Do with It."

However, in keeping so closely with much of its original storyline about beginnings and endings, the new Sparkle certainly has a way of redeeming itself as a quality movie well worth watching again - and again.