There are plenty of good elements in play in the new film "Sparkle," a remake of a 1976 film about three sisters trying to make it in the music business in Detroit in 1968.

The film features some great music, a nice acting debut from American Idol winner Jordan Sparks, and provides a glimpse of what once was from the recently deceased Whitney Houston.

But all of that is wasted in a film with a narrative that is all over the place - and a sad reminder of better movies like "Dreamgirls" and even the campy "Burlesque."

Sparks plays the title character, the youngest of three sisters trying to start a girls' group. She is a gifted song writer and even sings in the choir, but is basically relegated to a back-up single because of her shyness.

It's older sister, named Sister (Carmen Ejogo), who has the stage presence. Sister draws the attention of a young manager named Stix (Derek Luke), who wants to help the girls get a record contract.

But things are complicated on several fronts. First, the whole process has to be done in secret - as to not upset their mother Emma (Houston). She's a former singer who never made it and doesn't want her children to suffer the same pains she did.

Then there is Sister's marriage to an abusive comedian named Satin (Mike Epps). It's a rocky relationship that causes friction in the family, and puts a serious threat on all of the sisters musical careers.

Sparks has a nice screen presence and I will be interested to see her in other projects, but there are long stretches where her story takes a backseat to Sister. And Sister's story just isn't that interesting - feeling more like a retread of similar themes in other recent films about aspiring singers.

The one good thing about the Sister story arc is it does allow Houston to have a really effective moment, even if it is eerily close to real life, where she describes her life as a cautionary tale.

If "Sparkle" had found more time for Sparks, Houston, and the great soundtrack I think it could have worked.

Instead we get a film that will only be remembered because of the tragic passing of one of the stars.


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