Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Cast: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter
Director: Salim Akil

People always get nervous when they hear the word ‘remake’. There were concerns that the Jordin Sparks and Carmen Ejogo wouldn’t live up to the iconic performances of the 1976 original, and after rumors of plot changes and new songs added to the movie there were worries that the remake would not be received well at the box office. Factor in Whitney Houston’s death just months before the theatrical release and it seems Sparkle was doomed to fail.

Sparkle 2012 poster

After watching the remake, I’ll say those worries I mentioned above are justified. This remake wants to be a box office smash but it plays out like a Lifetime TV movie. The only saving graces are Carmen Ejogo and Mike Epps, who deliver great performances as the sultry Sister and menacing Satin, respectively. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Best Supporting Actress nominations for Ejogo during the upcoming awards season.

The remake shows sisters Sparkle (Sparks), Sister (Ejogo) and Dee (Sumpter) pursuing a music career despite the warnings of their mother Emma (Houston), who unsuccessfully tried to launch her own music career in her youth. Sparkle starts dating a young man named Stix who works as the girls’ manager and hustles around Detroit to book club performances for them.

Eventually the sisters become very popular and Sister starts an abusive, drug fueled relationship with a flashy and rich comedian named Satin Struthers. At this point the movie steers away from the plot of the original and develops its own ending for each of the characters. I didn’t mind the plot changes, but I wish it was executed in a better way.

The first half of the movie is fun and exciting. The music is upbeat and there are spirited cameos from soul singers Cee Lo Green and Goapele. Sister clearly steals the scenes though, and watching her seductive moves on stage and then observing her bad girl behavior off stage is fun to watch. Sparks is pleasant enough as Sparkle, and Sumpter’s character Dee gets lost in the shuffle, but those three together work well onscreen.

The second half of the movie starts to drag: the story lines for Emma, Sparkle, Dee, and Stix become unbelievably predictable, and I think the word ‘cliche’ can be used here as well. There’s a twist for Satin and Sister, but it’s done in such an underwhelming way that it doesn’t deliver the sadness and heartbreak that it was aiming for.

Speaking of sadness…it was hard to watch Whitney Houston perform ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’. Before her death in early 2012 Houston’s fans had to accept that she lost her voice. Even though the song was marketed as a highlight of the film, Houston’s voice croaked and cracked and she just didn’t have enough power to soar through the gospel song.

Looking back, I think this remake would’ve been solid if it were 20 minutes shorter and eliminated some unnecessary plot details. Sparkle is out on DVD now, but I can’t imagine rewatching this whole movie. I’d probably stick around long enough to see the energetic first half and then I’d look for something to do.