- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

The inevitable comparison between the cast of the new film “The Honeymooners” and the TV classic wisely gets deflated by a racial switcheroo.

These “Honeymooners” are from a lower-middle-class black neighborhood, making them soul brothers and sisters to the Caucasian quartet immortalized on the small screen a half-century ago by Jackie Gleason and his memorable co-stars (Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph).

It also doesn’t hurt that previous TV-to-movie translations have been mostly, shall we generously say, lackluster.

Seen from that prism, the new “Honeymooners” still underwhelms, but its oversize heart appears to be in the right place.

That’s especially true with Cedric the Entertainer’s take on Mr. Gleason’s immortal Ralph Kramden character. The portly “Barbershop” star can’t match the Great One’s bluster, but he manages to repeat some of Ralph’s best moves without embarrassing himself. And that’s not faint praise, especially when you step into the shoes of an icon.

The re-imagined “Honeymooners” may be a far cry from the 1950s model, but they still communicate by yelling out their respective windows and live from paycheck to paycheck.

What more could bus driver Ralph ask for, since he’s over the moon about his bride, Alice (Gabrielle Union)?

Of course, he’s also obsessed with plotting whatever get-rich scheme strikes his fancy at the moment. But all Alice wants is a home to call their own, and when kindly neighbors decide to sell their duplex, Alice and her buddy Trixie Norton (Regina Hall) jump on the offer.

Not so fast, though. Ralph’s last scheme emptied the couple’s bank account, and a shady real estate buyer (Eric Stoltz) is circling the wagons just in case their deal collapses. So it’s up to Ralph and his good pal, Ed Norton (Mike Epps), to come up with a last-minute plan to replenish Ralph’s bank account and let Alice have her dream home.

Unlike some TV-to-film vehicles (such as the “Scooby Doo” features),”The Honeymooners” doesn’t rely on sheer mimicry. Mr. Epps rarely attempts to ape the peerless Mr. Carney, and that’s a good thing. The one time he tries — when he approximates Mr. Carney’s signature hand flailing during a pool-hall sequence — the results are far from flattering. And when Ralph paraphrases the show’s big line with “I’ll take you to the moon, Alice,” the insult becomes a purring come-on.

At first, the film doesn’t appear to know which of Ralph’s schemes to hitch its wagon to, whether it’s the dog-race fiasco or buying an antique train stuck below the city’s streets. The former gives the film its one shot of espresso, inviting a shifty dog trainer played by John Leguizamo into the action. He’s the comic bolt of energy neither Cedric nor Mr. Epps proves to be, and his seemingly improv dialogue is both unexpected and uproarious.

The source material, as groundbreaking as it was, doesn’t hold up as a font of hearty laughter. We still watch “The Honeymooners” for the pinpoint comic timing and squeaky-clean plots rather than for any fresh gales of laughter.

Sadly, these “Honeymooners” don’t pick up the slack. We get standard-issue barbs that rarely rise above a middling modern sitcom, and only a few decent sight gags, which play to Cedric’s strengths. Director John Schultz (“Like Mike”) lets his stars coast on their inherent likability without throwing anything in their way, such as inspired slapstick or whip-smart pacing.

The audience, however, is left caring about the inevitable solution as the final reel begins to roll, when Ralph bellows one time too many at Norton and Alice threatens to up and leave.

It’s a formula that worked with the original and continues to do so years later, even though these “Honeymooners” carry it out in a less-than-classic fashion.

**

WHAT: “The Honeymooners”

RATING: PG-13 (Comic slapstick and sexual innuendo)

CREDITS: Directed by John Schultz. Written by Barry W. Blaustein, Danny Jacobson, Don Rhymer and David Sheffield, based on the CBS television series.

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

WEB SITE: www.honeymoonersmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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