It’s easy to feel sorry for The Honeymooners. Since its release last week it has fast become one of the most poorly received films of the year; panned by critics and shunned by audiences, scraping together a paltry $5 million at the box office. It’s no surprise the film failed — who exactly was it targeted for? Baby boomers probably won’t be able to muster enough nostalgia to want to see John Schultz’s modern reincarnation of that charming ’50s sitcom about spousal abuse starring an ethnically reoriented cast — even if that cast might be charming in its own right. So, who then? Do Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps have a large enough fan base to carry a film based solely on their comedic panache? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be a neutered recreation like this.
But even so, I’m at a loss for why the movie is receiving such rancor. It isn’t particularly terrible; it just isn’t much of anything else. The film is so innocuous that one gets the feeling of watching a slightly overlong television promo. The characters frit about with a sweet goofiness that’s as effervescent as it is pointless. The story — lifted prosaically from the classic sitcom — remains an encomium to blue-collar struggle, but where Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden was a raging bull, Cedric channels an irked teddy bear. Mike Epps has a bit more luck as the hapless sidekick, Ed Norton, and he delivers a remarkably relaxed performance given that his previous work has been so animated.
Things haven’t changed much for Ralph since 1955. He’s still a working-class shlub who dreams of financial stability by way of scatty get-rich-quick schemes. He’s still a bus driver, and he still bickers incessantly with his impudent wife Alice (Gabrielle Union this time). Ultimately it’s one of these schemes that give our present adaptation its main plot device: Alice wants to move out of the couple’s dingy tenement and into a low-cost duplex, but coming up with the cash for a down payment proves difficult when her husband’s ploys are constantly losing them money. Ralph enlists Ed’s help and embarks on a harebrained adventure to get the money back — most of which is centered on their discovery of an abandoned greyhound and the attempts to make it a racing dog.
It’s ironic that this big-screen incarnation feels so much smaller than its television counterpart. The film never really breaks free from its own diffidence in character or story. The whole of the plot totters along from one event to the next without any sense of exposition, as if acknowledging to the audience that it knows how predictable it is, and then ends on one of the most ridiculously anti-climactic notes imaginable. But if neither funny nor exciting, The Honeymooners seldom strays far from its gently affable characters or its good-natured morals. Incongruously, it’s a movie that ends up becoming the very working-class metaphor that it tries to exemplify; it isn’t significant, it isn’t inventive — it just makes do.
Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()