The Honeymooners

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The four still reside in a broken-down, Brooklyn
walk-up where the husbands are constantly cooking up cockamamie ways to make
a quick buck, much to their level-headed wives' chagrin. Visually, the picture fails to convey much of an authentic feel of New York City, except in a couple of early scenes: one, when we find Ralph’s bus careening down Broadway, and another, where he’s wooing Alice below the Brooklyn Bridge with a full moon hanging over the Manhattan skyline

Anyone expecting this adaptation to measure up to the classic television series might want to consider passing on this unrecognizable overhaul designed with a fresh, young audience in mind. For long gone are any of the elements which made the first so memorable: the poignant thread of social realism running through the core of the story, the witty repartee among the characters, and the intangible of chemistry which rendered the program timeless. To refresh memories while informing those too young to remember, The Honeymooners debuted on TV in 1950 as a sketch on the Cavalcade of Stars before being expanded five years later into the 30-minute sitcom which enjoyed a 39-episode run over the course of just one season.  Performed live, and without the benefit of rehearsals or retakes, this salt-of-the-earth saga starred Jackie Gleason as Ralph Cramden, a short-tempered dreamer who forever tests the patience of his equally-shrill spouse, Alice (Audrey Meadows). Her plight was to endure the domestic drudgery of life in a tiny, drab apartment building while waiting for one of her luckless hubby's hare-brained get-rich-quick schemes to pay off. Art Carney and Joyce Randolph co-starred as cockeyed optimists Ed and Trixie Norton, the quarreling couple's relatively blissful best friends and neighbors.

The 2005 edition of The Honeymooners, directed by John Schultz (Like Mike), does bear a superficial resemblance to the original, though the principal cast is now all-black, featuring Cedric the Entertainer as bus driver Ralph, Mike Epps as sewer worker Ed, and Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall as Alice and Trixie, respectively. The four still reside in a broken-down, Brooklyn walk-up where the husbands are constantly cooking up cockamamie ways to make a quick buck, much to their level-headed wives' chagrin. Visually, the picture fails to convey much of an authentic feel of New York City, except in a couple of early scenes: one, when we find Ralph’s bus careening down Broadway, and another, where he’s wooing Alice below the Brooklyn Bridge with a full moon hanging over the Manhattan skyline. Otherwise, the locales seem oddly antiseptic, as if they might be Hollywood sets, despite the presence of tear-away, tenement fire escapes and screeching elevated trains.

Practical Alice and Trixie, who both toil by day at a diner, have their heart set on buying a fixer-upper duplex provided they can raise the down payment before a dastardly real estate developer (Eric Stoltz) dupes the elderly owner into selling it to him. By contrast, we witness Ralph and Ed fritter away their free time and meager savings, and in very short order, on such ill-advised investments as the Y2K Survival Kit, the Pet Cactus, the velour fanny pack, break dancing, metal detectors, mislabeled Mets merchandise, a Kangol umbrella cap, a Pullman railroad car, a paper delivery route, and lottery tickets. Worse, they occasionally cross moral and legal lines, like when they pretend to be blind beggars, and when they collect funds for a bogus charity. However, there’s no time to explore ethical concerns here, as none of the above antics is developed any deeper than is necessary to trigger a quick laugh. The only such subplot with any traction involves an abandoned dog found in a dumpster.

The guys decide to enter the greyhound in a $20,000 stakes race. This signals the distracting entry of John Lequizamo into the picture as Dodge, the street hustler hired to train the reluctant pooch. Dodge's irreverent asides actually supply the movie's funniest moments, but they also set a distinctly different tone. It's unfortunate that it only takes a few lines of gratuitously crude dialogue to spoil an otherwise tyke-friendly flick which could have worked just as well clean. Otherwise, the tension starts to build towards the big finale, though I dare not divulge the resolution, of course. While this film fails to measure up to the TV show, I feel comfortable recommending it as light, family entertainment most likely to resonate with kids of the current cattle-prod generation whose attention-deficit issues apparently mandates their incessant over-stimulation.

Rather than engage us in a deliberately-paced, complicated adventure, this dizzying picture unfolds as a disconnected series of skits and one-liners, which will undoubtedly satisfy the youngsters, while simultaneously infuriating the nostalgically-inclined.

Good (2 stars)
Rating: PG-13 for sexual innuendo and crude humor.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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