STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $19.98
• Theatrical Trailer
• Bonus five-track Aretha Franklin CD

The Pitch

“It’s Dreamgirls without catchy songs, good acting, or even passable filmmaking!”

The Humans

Philip Michael Thomas, Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, Dwan Smith, Mary Alice, Dorian Harewood, Tony King.

The Nutshell

If you believe the DVD box, then you think maybe Sparkle is a precursor, or rather, spiritual sister, to Dreamgirls. In reality, though, Sparkle’s a simpler, more universal tale. It’s your typical rags-to-riches story about three sisters dreaming of showbiz who get held back by the eldest’s cocaine habit and abusive relationship with a local thug both of which lead to her untimely death by OD which in turn causes the middle sister to wake up and realize she’s being unduly oppressed by the white man so she then leaves the group even though there are no white people in it making it so that the youngest sister has to start her own band with the help of her ex-construction worker boyfriend who gets into a jam by borrowing money from a Jewish mobster that the youngest sister’s mother cleans house for in an attempt to realize that youngest sister’s dreams of being a star.

Whew…I need a glass of water now.

It’s interesting, but on the whole I think Paul Greengrass’ Shaft is fairly unsatisfying.

The Lowdown

Do not be fooled by the DVD box. Warner Bros. is hoping you’ll buy this movie to capture some more of that Dreamgirls magic. Let me make this clear: Dreamgirls is a really good movie. Sparkle is a really shitty one. It’s just fucking terrible. Rarely have I seen a movie that just fucking eats it on every single level like this one. This is Alexander bad. Dr. Uwe Boll bad. You see a movie like Sparkle, and you don’t think, “How did this ever get made,” but rather, “Well, I’d better start packing for the Apocalypse now.” It’s that bad.

And there’s no reason that this film needed to blow! The concept’s a solid one: people have been doing musical rags-to-riches stories for years. Hell, 40% of VHI’s Behind the Music episodes dealt with this topic (when not covering horrendous drug addictions and Vince Neil getting blown in that other 60%). And Curtis Mayfield did the music for this film! Curtis "Superfly" Mayfield! To quote William Hurt, how do you fuck that up?

"This bores me."

Well, for starters, you fill Mayfield up to the gills with Thorazine before having him compose the music. That way, you can be guaranteed at least that aurally, the film will grate like Fran Drescher with strep throat. The music here is awful. The film itself is set in 1958, and yet every song sounds like tacky, borderline-elevator music ‘70s funk/pop, ensuring that the music is terrible and anachronistic.

And then, you bury that music, a whopping five tracks of it, I believe, in a labyrinthine plot that would put Tom Clancy to shame. You got your core story about the three sisters. That in itself is fine. But then, throw in a romantic subplot between Sparkle (Cara) and Stix (Thomas) where Stix wants acceptance from Sparkle’s family. Add Sister’s (McKee) downfall from cocaine and her violent thug lover Satin (King). While we’re here, note that FOUR characters have ludicrous names that begin with “S.” And then, just for the hell of it, add Sparkle forming a new band, a whole Jewish mobster angle for extra “suspense,” and a “white man is the devil” bit even though the movie includes nothing to warrant that. And I haven’t even mentioned the whole part about Sister’s ex-boyfriend Levi (Harewood)!

"Picture out, pants down. It’s clobberin’ time!"

Got all that? Now discard some subplots at random without resolving them, regardless of how marginally interesting they may be, and the ones you do choose to resolve, make sure to do so in as uninspired and dramatically inert fashion as possible. Oh yeah, and cut out important scenes at random. We get almost no transitions between important events. The name of the sisters’ band is “The Harts” one minute, and a minute later it’s “Sister and the Sisters (which is only slightly better a band name than “50 Odd Foot of Grunts”).” Sister’s happy and healthy in one scene, and in the next scene she’s coked out of her mind while being punched in the head repeatedly by Satin as he screams, “Crawl, bitch.”

This is that rare breed of movie so committed with charting the creation, from the ground-up, of a band, with all the trials and tribulations that entails, that the filmmakers don’t even cover the rehearsal period! The characters literally go from “hey, we should start a band” in one scene to singing perfectly while wowing the crowd in the next scene. Or, my favorite example of how inept this “film” is, main characters disappear from the movie for LONG periods of time with little rhyme or reason. No, that’s not fair. The reason’s probably that the writer, director, and editor are all functionally retarded. That’s a triple threat! Although, when your lead is as stumbling and awkward a leading man as Mr. “I was on Miami Vice too, and my hair was better than Don Johnson’s” AKA Philip Michael Thomas, maybe losing your leading man is a blessing in disguise. If you do all that, and I mean all that, and then include some amateurish and poorly-staged musical routines where certain singers are frequently obscured by someone’s head, then, and only then, can you create something like Sparkle.

"He just starting screaming, ‘Fuck Jamie Foxx! When’s gonna be my time?’ It was…weird."

I’ve been so negative up to this point, and I feel like I should give the filmmakers some credit. I think that if you’re trying to find someone to write dialogue and settings that accurately reflect the gritty urban milieu of 1950s Harlem, nay, African-American life in general, you really can do no better than Joel Schumacher. Yes, that Joel Schumacher. Are you fucking kidding me? The blackest guy he ever cast in any of his films was Mr. T., followed closely by Judd Nelson. As a result, we get oodles of “authentic” talk and situations, like a cock-fight run by Mexicans and bet on only by black pimps, or “cracker” being the only word used to describe white people, or, my personal favorite, Schumacher’s keenly observed sense of street lingo, like having Sister say, “Baby, your sister can’t fly on one wing.” I’d say I’d buy a Coke for anyone who could explain that last bit to me, but I really don’t give a shit. Yes, Schumacher writes about the black experience with the eye of someone who’s never been south of Central Park West. Plus, his mobsters are the nicest, most reasonable ones you’ll ever see (outside of maybe Bugsy Malone, and even Scott Baio there had more edge); when Stix refuses to give Sparkle over to him at gunpoint, they smile and laugh and let him have his way rather than put two in his brainpan and toss him in a marsh. Again, Schumacher’s innate knowledge of the criminal underworld is staggering.

Ah, here’s proof of the fabled "Schumacher Touch."

This film is ass salad, plain and simple. You can do so much better. See Dreamgirls. Rent Singin’ in the Rain or A Star is Born if you’re looking for something more vintage. Or better yet, go out and plant a tree or feed the homeless at a soup kitchen or volunteer in a children’s ward in a hospital, anything to better your world and the world of those around you because I promise you this:

Watching Sparkle benefits no one. And that’s the truth.

The Package

What a surprise! Crappy movie, crappy audio/visuals. The picture quality’s muddy and indistinct in the way that unrestored ‘70s cinema often looks, and the sound’s too loud, with a tinny quality that occurs every now and then, making the vocals go flat. But seeing as how I’ll never watch this fucker again, I find it hard to care. If anything, the quality of the picture and sound only added to my hate of this film, and that feeling’s priceless. The box art is strikingly close to the Dreamgirls poster, with silver the background color here instead of blue; everyone at Warner Bros. is praying like hell you’ll mistake this for an advance DVD copy and buy it. DO NOT FALL FOR THEIR RUSE!

This would never happen. Never ever. Ever. Unless Ray wanted to fuck Sparkle and the Soul Ladies. Then it might.

After I finished the movie, I noticed another DVD in the box and almost had an aneurism. To have watch another DVD of material for this movie would be like hearing your entire family had been murdered and then getting hit in the balls with a spiked bat as a consolation gift. Luckily, the extra disc is just a five track CD with Aretha Franklin covering the songs from the film. It’s a testament to this film’s badness that not even Aretha could make them bearable; I will be using this CD as a Frisbee. The only special feature on the movie disc is the theatrical trailer, and even though it’s bad, it’s really a blessing in disguise. After all, Warner Bros. spared us the “Where They Are Now” retrospective pieces on Philip Michael Thomas and Irene Cara they could have included, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I cannot NOT recommend this film enough. It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in some time. Even if you’re a fan, the cruddy sound and picture don’t merit a purchase. This film isn’t even “so bad it’s good” like Frankenfish or Showgirls or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Those three have a little style, a little verve, and a little energy to them. Sparkle is just numbing in its badness.

And honestly, who wants to go to the movies to feel numb?

This is what they call in the world of medicine a "problem area."

1.0 out of 10