As I say on the show, which will air Friday at 6:30 p.m., this is mass confusion posing as cultural history – if you’ll allow me to define mass confusion as a parade of clichés. Though a remake of a 1976 movie, starring Philip Michael Thomas and Irene Cara, this version is a mishmash of other, better work – “Lady Sings the Blues,” for example, or “Dreamgirls,” “Cadillac Records,” even last week’s episode of “Glee.”
But whatever its origins, director Salim Akil’s film throws everything together in a way that is supposed to capture 1968 Detroit, which was still reeling from social unrest. Only very little works.
For one thing, the fashions don’t truly capture the U.S. at that time. I counted two Afro hairstyles in the film. Two! And the camerawork and editing, not to mention tone, that director Salim Akil adopts owes more to Tyler Perry than any filmmaker with actual moviemaking talent (instead of someone who recycles the same old would-be endearing character time and again).
As for plot, anyone who even remotely remembers the era of Motown music will be familiar with the story of three young black women who want to become singing stars (uh, remember The Supremes?). Here, the story is complicated by the inclusion of a domineering mother (played, yes, by the late Whitney Houston), a brutal husband (Mike Epps) and unscrupulous record executives.
But for this kind of movie to work, the music has to be good enough to keep our attention. Which why movies such as I’ve already mentioned work: They use proven hits. The music of “Sparkle” is just what you would expect from a former “American Idol” contestant, Jordin Sparks, who plays the youngest of three singing sisters.
Sparks’ Sparkle is supposed to be talented enough to write a hit a day, but her songs not only don’t feel authentic to the time – they’re far more Norah Jones than Aretha Franklin – they not likely to attract an audience even today.
And neither, likely, will the movie itself. By the way, in the trailer embed below, you should know that featured performer Cee Lo Green is in the film for about five minutes.