Naomi Ackie in  "Whitney Houston: I Wann Dance with Somebody."

Naomi Ackie in  "Whitney Houston: I Wann Dance with Somebody." Credit: TRISTAR pictures /Emily Aragones

PLOT The dazzling rise and tragic fall of a superstar.

CAST Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders

RATED PG-13 (drug use and language)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A quick-hit timeline of Houston's life that adds little new information or insight.

If a singer's life story could be told though her wardrobe alone, “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” would be the most authentic biopic to come out of Hollywood yet. Starring the British actor Naomi Ackie as Houston, the movie recreates the superstar's every fashion highlight, from her teased-out, Mall-of-America coif in the 1985 video “How Will I Know” to her dominatrix dinner dress in 1999’s “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay.” Whatever Oscars this movie wins for costumes and hair/makeup, they’ll be well-deserved.

What the movie doesn’t give us, however, is much insight into what made Houston tick as a performer or as a person.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”) from a script by Anthony McCarten (the equally superficial “Bohemian Rhapsody”), the movie runs at top speed in an effort to cram in every milemarker in Houston’s career. It starts with her early years in a New Jersey church choir, moves quickly to her meeting with Arista chairman Clive Davis, then sees her inking a deal, hitting the charts and conquering the 1991 Super Bowl with her version of the national anthem (one of the movie’s few spine-tingling moments). Suddenly, with little explanation, she slips into drug use. The whole movie zips by this way, like a Whitney Houston flipbook.

The film does boast a compelling cast. Ackie captures the singer’s unusual vibe -- part girl next door, part arm’s-length diva -- and she lip-syncs convincingly to Houston’s tracks. Tamara Tunie is solid but underused as Houston’s mother, the gospel star Cissy (she vanishes for most of the movie), while Clarke Peters makes a strong impression as Houston’s commanding, self-serving father, John. Ashton Sanders, as Houston’s husband, the R&B brat Bobby Brown, does the impossible: He makes us almost like him. (Then again, the movie ignores the rumors and allegations of domestic abuse that swirled around their marriage.) The canniest performance comes from Stanley Tucci, who plays the golden-eared Davis -- a producer of this film -- with a world-weary, echt-Jewish humor.

The biggest revelation is the extent of Houston’s pre-fame romance with Robyn Crawford (a confident Nafessa Williams), the woman who would later become her executive assistant. Here was a solid, supportive relationship that, in a more tolerant era, might have helped Houston navigate the high-pressure stardom that would finally drag her underwater in a Beverly Hilton bathtub at the age of 48 in 2012. There’s a deeper story to be found in Houston’s life, but “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” prefers to remember her by her worshipful but reductive nickname – The Voice.

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