"The Honeymooners," a 1950s television series starring Jackie Gleason as as a ne'er-do-well bus driver living in a rent-controlled New York City apartment with his comically long-suffering wife, doesn't immediately lend itself to getting the big-screen treatment, and for good reason. For one, the premise was out-and-out sitcom, limited in scope and ingenuity, and two, although popular in the day, this film adaptation's target audience probably has never seen the show. As for fans of the CBS series, most now well into middle age, they may have a hard time relating to Cedric the Entertainer's respectful but updated take on Ralph Kramden. Putting a fresh spin on an old idea is one thingfor example, the race of the characters has changedbut director John Schultz (1999's "Drive Me Crazy
") has rendered "The Honeymooners" almost wholly uninteresting and devoid of cinematic breadth. This isn't the worst movie of the yearit isn't even the worst comedy of the yearbut it may be one of the blandest.
The plot is cornball to the nth degree, perfect for a thirty-minute TV program but stretched ridiculously thin as a 90-minute comedy. Bus driver Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer) lives with his waitress wife, Alice (Gabrielle Union), in a grungy Manhattan apartment building, frequented by upstairs neighbors Ed (Mike Epps) and Trixie Norton (Regina Hall). The four of them, particularly the two gal friends, dream of one day escaping their undesirable living situation and purchasing a house to call their own. This dream seems like it might become a reality when Alice and Trixie run into an elderly lady (Anne Pitoniak) selling her homey duplex. If they can come up with $20,000 by the end of the week to put a down payment on the property, the house is theirs. What Alice doesn't yet know is that Ralph's get-rich-quick schemes has left their bank account empty. In an effort not to squash their wives' hopes, Ralph and Ed set out to find a way to make back the lost money.
"The Honeymooners" was written by four people, never an encouraging sign since it usually signals a screenplay-by-committee approach. Since none of the writing quartet were able to muster up one standout joke or genuinely funny moment, not to mention a storyline worthy of audiences spending up to ten bucks per ticket, it further proves just how unnecessary and hopeless the project was from the start. This is a dead-in-the-water bust of a comedy, the type that lethargically stumbles along with hardly anything at stake and no reason to care about any of it. When a viewer's mind wanders mid-film to what he is going to have for lunch, and their attention is more zeroed in on continuity flubs and the initials on a uniform (DEPidentical to my own name) than anything else, you know you're in trouble.
The performances, several by great, underrated actors like Gabrielle Union (2004's "Breakin' All the Rules
") and unrivaled comedic genius Regina Hall (2005's "King's Ransom
"), only are able to go so far when the flat-footed development of their characters requires them to do little and say even less of consequence. The misuse of Hall is a travesty; she is so good in everything, bringing levels of spirit, enthusiasm and quirkiness that you just want to pick up and embrace, that when her talents are totally squandered, it should be a criminal offense. As Ralph Kramden, Cedric the Entertainer (2004's "Johnson Family Vacation
") is more tolerable and low-key than in some of his past turns, but no match for Jackie Gleason, while Mike Epps (2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse
") is forgettable. That leaves a few character actors, like John Leguizamo (2005's "Assault on Precinct 13
") as a thief-cum-dog-trainer, Carol Woods (1999's "Sweet and Lowdown") as Alice's sassy mom, and Eric Stoltz (2004's "The Butterfly Effect
") as a slimy developer out to snatch away the duplex for himself, to pick up the slack in otherwise stock supporting roles.
"The Honeymooners" isn't as unctuous as it could have been (the song choices are chosen for appropriateness rather than wall-to-wall R&B and rap songs out to sell soundtrack albums), but it's pretty lame all the same. Even the end credits blooper reel is devoid of humor or rhythm, and attempts at sentiment are only slightly better than that. Like watching a destined-to-fail UPN sitcom for an hour and a half (coincidentally, Ralph actually compares Alice to this exact thing at one point), the best that can be said about "The Honeymooners" is that it's almost never annoying. Unfortunately, the reason for this is that most viewers will probably be too bored to care.