By Rich Cline
An energetic cast and some terrific music make up for the rather hackneyed plot of this Dreamgirls-style drama. Remade from a 1976 film, the story is that familiar trajectory of musicians who achieve fame only to fall into a string of ugly problems. It's just about watchable, but what makes it notable is that it features Whitney Houston in her last film role.
It's set in 1968 Detroit, where Sister (Ejogo) is determined to become a star. Her singer-songwriter sister Sparkle (Sparks) is the one with real talent, but she's happy to stay in the background with their other sister Dee (Sumpter). As Sister and Her Sisters, they are managed by Stix (Luke), a fast-talking charmer who falls for Sparkle. But the girls' intensely religious mother (Houston) is under no illusions: she has been there, done that and continually warns her daughters that they shouldn't go the same way she did. But of course, they have to live their messy lives themselves.
Since it's such a familiar story, the film has a cheesy, soapy feel to it, playing on the sisters' rebellion against their religious upbringing. Of course, danger is represented in the men they fall for. While good-girl Sparkle tries to keep Stix at arms' length for awhile at least, Sister must choose between two men: the poor but nice Levi (Hardwick) and the flashy but drug-addled Satin (Epps). Since we know that she will choose the wrong guy, we know it's not going to be a happy journey for her. But this trawl through the dark side gives Ejogo a chance to steal the film with a much more emotionally charged performance.
By contrast, Sparks is almost dull. And her musical performances never quite let her cut loose, even in the film's fantastically improbable final sequence. Houston does get a chance to grab the spotlight, belting out a moving gospel number while giving a steely performance that eerily echoes her own life. In the end, the melodrama only skims over the serious issues, including the period's intense racial turmoil. But since this was Houston's last film role, it's still worth a look.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 17th August 2012
Box Office Worldwide: $24.4M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Akil Production Company, Stage 6 Films, Phoenix Pictures, TriStar Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 50 Rotten: 38
Cast & Crew
Screenwriter: Mara Brock Akil