Directed by: John Schultz
Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, John Leguizamo, Carol Woods
This innocuous, sweet-tempered and frequently enjoyable little movie was made by people who quite obviously love the TV show on which it's based. Nonetheless, the film is getting an undeservedly bad rap that carries with it more than a hint of racism.
I know that the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) message boards aren't exactly populated by the most enlightened -- or literate -- folks on Earth, and that their "user reviews" are frequently no better. But seeing entire threads with headings like "What if the situation were reversed" and "Racism and Crappy Movies" (both of which were filled with posts that have been "deleted by an administrator") is at the very least troubling. It was even more troubling a few days ago, before the posts were removed (and before anyone had seen the movie).
The general tone was not "how dare they remake The Honeymooners," but "how dare they remake it with black people." This view was often bolstered by posing the question, "How would they like it if we remade Sanford and Son with white people?" (Thereby compounding the amassed ignorance, since Sanford and Son was a reworking of the British TV show Steptoe and Son, which -- guess what -- starred white people.)
In place of these remarks, we now find "user reviews" that are merely toned-down variants of the same idea. (On a happier note, there are at least some posts from people who merely dislike the idea of any remake of The Honeymooners.)
Never having thought that much of the old Jackie Gleason show from the 1950s, I really didn't care one way or the other about reworking the series for the big screen, but it had never occurred to me that the original was any kind of racial statement to begin with. Just exactly how a loud-mouthed Brooklyn bus driver who's constantly threatening to slug his wife (whether or not it was humorously intended) has seemingly become the poster boy for white people is a question worth pondering.
Face facts: The TV show was built around the talents of its cast and was very much of its time. And guess what? White director John Schultz's film -- from a screenplay by at least two white writers -- is a movie that operates on exactly the same premise. Moreover, it's done with obvious respect and fondness for the old series. The moon over the New York skyline makes a couple of truly charming appearances, and there's room for a "Baby, you're the greatest." Sure, the old threat of slugging the wife "to the moon" has been transformed into a romantic reference of taking her to the moon, but I'm not sure that's altogether a bad thing.
And I think it's a very good thing that the movie riffs on the series rather than attempting to copy it. In fact, one of the cleverest moments in the movie comes when Ralph (Cedric the Entertainer) tries to get out of the house by telling Alice (Gabrielle Union) that he has to go to a lodge meeting. "Lodge meeting? What are we suddenly? The Flintstones?" she asks in disbelief, neatly referencing the original's preoccupation with such meetings and the fact that The Flintstones was essentially a cartoon reworking of The Honeymooners.
At every turn, the movie seems more a 2005 appreciation of the series than anything else, and one that is wisely tailored to its cast members, who manage to make their characters charming and likable. Ralph Kramden is easily the best character Cedric's been handed since Eddie in Barbershop, and he plays it for both warmth and exasperated humor. Mike Epps has never had a role as good as Ed Norton, and never has he been this appealing. The luminous Gabrielle Union finally gets something almost worthy of her talent in Alice Kramden, though her role is housed in a movie that unfortunately seems doomed to tank at the box office. And Regina Hall, who was used so offensively in King's Ransom, has a fine turn as Trixie Norton, a role that's written with more bite than the others. She even gets to play on racial stereotypes, as in the bit where she feeds into nasty real-estate developer Eric Stoltz's prejudices by asking Alice, "Do you want me to cut him?"
Sure, the plot is nothing but situation comedy stuff, but what did you expect? The whole premise of Ralph trying to cover his tracks by raising money to replace money he lost in another of his endless get-rich-quick schemes is certainly workable, as are the ways in which he and Norton tackle this mission. The movie's not great -- and apart from John Leguizamo's shady dog trainer, it's rarely more than mildly amusing. It is, however, consistently pleasant, and the characters are genuine and genuinely nice people about whom you actually care. That's not a bad accomplishment -- especially in a summer that's been filled with far more ambitious movies that couldn't pull even that off. Rated PG-13 for some innuendo and rude humor.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke