- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

“Honey” recasts the “Cinderella” yarn with hip-hop diva Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott as an improbable fairy godmother. The film also mimics “Flashdance,” “Showgirls” and “Glitter,” although it never sinks as low as the latter two debacles.

“Dark Angel’s” Jessica Alba stars as Honey, a sweet choreographer pining for a chance at music video glory. Yet the actress’ exotic veneer and Energizer Bunny acting method can paper over only so many sappy subplots.

Flawless beauty aside, Miss Alba never seems like the Everywoman she needs to be in order for “Honey” to click. She’s the saint of her ‘hood, a homegirl without flaws. Nobody who works three — count ‘em — jobs should smile as much as she does.

Maybe she keeps sneaking peeks at her buff abs, a body part featured prominently in both the film and its ad campaign. Her six-pack deserves its own screen credit — or at least a separate publicist.

Every generation, apparently, needs its “Flashdance.” Here, our Jennifer Beals stand-in adores hip-hop tunes, not the generic ‘80s rock that gave Miss Beals that proverbial “what a feeling.”

Honey is pouring drinks at a trendy New York dance club when a music video director named Michael (David Moscow, both game and miscast) spots her burning up the dance floor after a work shift. Before you can say overnight sensation, she’s choreographing some of hip-hop’s biggest stars. Along the way, she alienates her old friends, a tight-knit group that seemingly can’t grasp the magnitude of their pal’s good fortune.

It’s only a matter of time before Michael’s dark side emerges, forcing Honey to choose between keepin’ it real and keeping her job.

“Honey” matches every plot contrivance with an element unexpected in a formula film. Its romance between Honey and a good-natured barber, Chaz (Mekhi Phifer of “8 Mile”), simmers for quite a spell before reaching its earnest conclusion. Meanwhile, a bank executive who holds the fate of her ultimate dream isn’t the twitchy villain we expect.

Miss Alba’s relationship with Benny (rapper Lil’ Romeo), a sour lad caught between dance and drugs, works chiefly because the youngster possesses the kind of spark even the soggiest of sagas can’t douse.

Director and music video veteran Bille Woodruff puts his skills to good visual use in his first feature.

Mr. Woodruff lets some of the peripheral characters flesh out the story, while convincingly capturing the look of a music video set. His eye for framing a shot gives each scene an edge otherwise lacking in the hackneyed script.

While “Flashdance’s” Miss Beals didn’t have a throng of music stars to make her rise to the top any easier, “Honey” boasts appearances by Missy Elliott, District native Ginuwine, Tweet and Jadakiss & Sheek, among others, whose collective work gives the film its whiff of reality.

Hip-hop lovers will relish “Honey’s” thumping metronome of a soundtrack, or at the very least marvel at how Tweet’s ethereal voice soars over the mechanized beats.

“Honey” stands a slight chance of hitting the same cultural nerve as “Flashdance” did 20 years ago — but only if Miss Alba’s mesmerizing looks and the film’s of-the-second soundtrack can cast a stronger spell than the routine movie itself.

**

WHAT: “Honey”

RATING: PG-13 (drug content, some sexual references and minor violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Bille Woodruff. Written by Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson.

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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