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THE HONEYMOONERS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Eric Stoltz, John Leguizamo
Director: John Schultz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2005

“One of these day, you are gonna push me too far!”

“The only thing that could push you is a bulldozer!”

Film **1/2

At first glance, the idea of taking such a renowned television classic such as The Honeymooners and reinventing it with an African-American cast may have some scratching their heads, especially since a popular show like The Jeffersons hasn’t gotten the movie treatment (but then again, who else could play George Jefferson but Sherman Hemsley?). While I’m sure this movie treatment will be shunned by loyal viewers of the TV show, the surprise is that it’s not that entirely bad. The engaging performances do help in making this a bit better than the average movie adapted from a television series, even if the end result is a mixed bag.

The funny Cedric the Entertainer takes on the role of NYC bus driver Ralph Kramden, and does it rightfully by not attempting to imitate any of Jackie Gleason’s trademark gestures or mannerisms. And fellow funnyman Mike Epps does the same in the role of Kramden’s upstairs neighbor Ed Norton, a proud sewer worker for the city. Cedric and Epps play off each other quite well, and it’s one of the movies strong points.

The plot involves Ralph’s determination to make a better life for him and his long-suffering wife, Alice (Gabrielle Union). When he first met her while driving his bus, he was struck by love at first glance. Before they got married, he promised her a better life and one full of luxury. Now six years have passed since that promise, and they are still shacked up in the same apartment complex as Ralph is stuck in the same dead-end job.

Alice works as a waitress alongside Trixie (Regina Hall), who is Ed’s long suffering wife. Both women want their men to try harder in terms of making them happy. Pressured by this, Ralph and Ed always try to go along with any get-rich-quick schemes that fire up in either’s brain. Alice is particularly fed up most because Ralph spent all the money in her financial plan on dreams that went down the tube.

But then one day, Ralph and Ed find a greyhound dog in a trash can. The first idea they get is to enter the dog at a race track. This leads them to the path of a clueless dog trainer named Dodge, a.k.a. the Dog Whisperer (John Leguizamo in a funny bit role). They hope that this dog will result in buckets of cash to make their women happy.

The problem is a shady real estate salesman named David (Eric Stoltz) is trying to stop them at any cost. Alice and Trixie are looking to possibly purchase a nice duplex from a nice old lady. But Davis is looking to tear down that same area of property and rebuild condos. If she can come up with a $20,000 down payment, the house is all theirs. Enter Ralph’s new scheme to get the money.

The movie’s only crucial flaw is the formulaic plot structure with an all too obvious adversary in the mix. The problem is this area of the movie takes up most of the screen time. It’s too much of a weak area that other areas of the movie, including the funny bits involving Leguizamo’s bumbling dog training character. It’s a portion of the movie that feels strictly by-the-numbers.

While it has many funny moments, and is a whole lot better than you’d might expect, this new take on The Honeymooners suffers a bit from one cliché too many. But Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps do give their performances a certain energy and spirit all their own, as do Ms. Union and Hall as the suffering wives. All in all, the film is a mixed bag.

Video *1/2

Oh why, oh why was the movie released like this? In addition the movie being cut down a few minutes to get a family friendly PG rating (which I really don’t have a problem with), the movie is only available in a Full Screen version. Looking at the frame, it was easy to see that the film was shot in a 2.35:1 format (a fact that’s even illustrated in the featurettes on the disc). Why this decision was made I don’t have a clue. May I make a formal request to have the original and widescreen cut of the movie available as soon as possible? So many shots were off frame that I lost count.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix does this lively comedy quite well. Many of the strong points come through numerous bits of physical comedy, as well as upbeat music beats. Several set pieces, such as scenes set in the city sewer and in Ralph’s apartment, help in delivering some nice dynamic range. A well handled piece of comedic audio.

Features ***

Included on the disc are Commentary by Director John Schultz and stars Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps, a featurette titled “Hanging With The Honeymooners”, 6 Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with Optional Commentary by John Schultz, 2 Interstitials and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

Close, but no cigar is all I can say about the big screen treatment of The Honeymooners, despite the engaging qualities of the performances. And this DVD treatment is dying for some remodeling, starting with the format of the picture. Once that version gets put out, who knows? This disc might get upgrades in many areas.

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