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'Sparkle' burnishes Whitney Houston's legacy

7:48 AM, Aug 17, 2012   |    comments
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Whitney Houston in the trailer from the upcoming 'Sparkle'

(USA TODAY) -- Sparkle shines brightest during its musical numbers.

The melodramatic story is familiar, though the talented cast makes the most of rather tired material.

PHOTOS | NYC Sparkle premiere

A remake of the 1976 original, this version is set in Detroit during the late 1960s and features the last performance of Whitney Houston, who died in February.

Houston plays fiercely protective matriarch Emma, who is determined to keep her three daughters away from the temptations that nearly killed her.

A singer in her younger years, Emma is hell-bent on discouraging the musical aspirations of youngest daughter Sparkle (Jordin Sparks).

Middle daughter Dolores (Tika Sumpter) has applied to medical school. Emma is thrilled. She wishes her oldest, Tammy (Carmen Ejogo), would marry a doctor. But Tammy, referred to as Sister, is not interested in playing it safe. Almost 30, she's eager to get out from under her mother's roof.

Though Tammy has a guy who loves her in Levi (Omari Hardwick), she's seduced by the glamorous life offered by comedian Satin (Mike Epps).

Sparkle is a spirited songwriter who convinces Tammy to perform one of her songs at a local club. That leads to the three sisters trying out for a local musical contest, spurred on by Stix (Derek Luke), who becomes their manager and also has eyes for Sparkle.

The trio are a wonderfully appealing group, inspired by Motown and a melange of R&B and gospel music. Dolores is sassy and Sparkle is spunky, but Tammy's sultry moves attract the most attention. Sparkle tries to keep her sisters united, but Tammy's life takes a downward spiral as she moves in with the smooth, but cruel, Satin.

While Sparks has a genuine sparkle and an amazing voice, she doesn't get to fully show it off until more than 90 minutes into the movie. Houston is convincing as the loving but inflexible mom. Houston has a singing solo while at church, but she's clearly a supporting player in the movie, which she also executive-produced.

It's took bad Sparkle trots out so many A Star is Born-style cliches. Fortunately, the film is full of show-stopping musical numbers that all but drown out the predictable story.

Envisioned as a starring vehicle for Sparks, Sparkle is also a fitting curtain call for Houston. Her character's ultimate willingness to acknowledge her daughter's dreams and encourage the musical aspirations of the next generation is a lovely final tribute.

(Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)

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