Whitney Houston's cinematic swan song did not screen by WW's press deadlines. It turns out to be a mere footnote to a life mired in tragedy.

Critics Grade: C

Sparkle could have been the beginning of Whitney Houston's climb back into relevancy and a potential second act to her once bright career in music and film. Sadly, it is merely a footnote in the rockier pages of her life story, coming as it does some six months after Houston passed away. It renders her performance as the disapproving mother of a late '60s girl group far more melancholic than it should be. Because, even though she cedes top billing to former American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, Houston serves as the heart of this fantastical story set in Motown-era Detroit.

Her character, Emma, is a God-fearing woman whose own shot at musical stardom fell short. Her daughters Sister (Carmen Ejogo), Sparkle (Sparks), and Dee (Tika Sumpter) are forced to sneak out of the family home to perform their sultry, poppy tunes. Urged on by their manager (and Sparkle's beau) Stix (Derek Luke), the group, Sister & Her Sisters, catches fire from the get-go, earning a televised spot opening for Aretha Franklin.

There are, of course, dramatics along the way, most coming in the guise of a black comedian, played with oozing unctuousness by Mike Epps, who takes up with Sister, introduces her to drugs, and is both verbally and physically abusive. But this is a story of redemption and self-realization peppered with musical performances. It's cinematic comfort food in that respect, and knowing that will help you navigate past the more ridiculous plot points, the sketchy racial politics, and some fairly shallow acting. If you're able to simply accept Sparkle as the pure fantasy it is, your chances of enjoyment are increased tenfold. Dig any deeper below the surface, and the hollow shell will be revealed.