SparkWhen actors have worked as long and as hard as Terrence Howard and Nicole Ari Parker, it’s inevitable that there will be some films of theirs out there that have yet to see the light of day. Now that both Howard and Parker have achieved commercial success, it’s no wonder that the 1998 thriller Spark has been given a new DVD release courtesy of Warner Home Video almost a decade after its original premiere in various film festivals. While this might seem like the typical production company effort to cash in on actor’s commercial success through the release of older, subpar material, Spark reveals itself to be quality work that stands on its own.

From the opening credits, when we hear a car ignition start up in the dark, and then witness urban landscapes rolling away to rural scenery to the beat of Marc Anthony Thompson’s original score, we know we’re in the hands of a professional.  Spark, the first release on the new American Black Film Festival DVD Series for Warner Home Video, starts with Byron (Terrence Howard) driving Nina (Nicole Ari Parker) from Chicago to LA so that she can begin college classes. The trip is something of a farewell trip between the couple, but when their car hits a dog in an isolated desert town causing the car to break down, things take a turn for the worse. A young mechanic named Mooney (Brendan Sexton III) tows the couple into the only auto shop in town and tensions run high as Byron’s hot temper quickly puts him out of favor with the local law enforcement, the racist mechanic overcharges for the repairs, and Nina and Byron are at each other’s throats.

Byron discovers a surprising and slightly awkward kinship with Mooney as the couple waits for their car to be repaired, spending the night in a local motel. But the longer Byron and Nina stay in town, the worse things get as Mooney reveals his pent up anger and frustration to the unsuspecting Byron. The movie takes a few unexpected turns, but for the most part the audience can predict what will happen next. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as the story still plays out in a satisfyingly clever way, only faltering at the very end, when the plot gets a little too heavy for the script to handle. Like Byron’s BMW in the film, Spark is a smooth ride when it’s running, but as it runs out of gas, it gets a little shaky and then ultimately dies.

Writer/Director Garret Williams originally filmed Spark as a black and white short in 1996. When the short garnered support (winning both 1st and Grand Prize at the USA Film Festival), he went on to recast the film and develop it as a feature. The feature version of Spark earned Williams the Jury Prize of Best Director in the Urbanworld Film Festival in 1999, a well-deserved honor.  Williams’ directing is a joy to watch, along with Sam Ameen’s beautiful cinematography, using the desert landscapes as a backdrop to Byron and Nina’s bleak situation. It’s a shame that the duo only have one other shared credit: the 2001 short BB Gun.

After viewing Spark, it’s abundantly clear why the ABFF DVD Series chose it as their first release. The film is taut and well-produced, the acting is superb, and the story is fairly solid. Watching Terrence Howard and Nicole Ari Parker as two unknowns in a low-budget indie film, it’s already apparent where their talents will take them. Even the most difficult of dialogue, in the hands of such experts, comes out sounding realistic and emotionally honest. The movie has its hitches, but it’s still better than most of the movies being released in theatres today. Anyone looking for an early peek at Terrence Howard’s leading man capabilities shouldn’t miss Spark.

To purchase Spark, visit Amazon

For more information on the American Black Film Festival, visit their homepage

Be Sociable, Share!