THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Honey stars Jessica Alba (from TV’s “Dark Angel”) as Honey Daniel, a young Bronx woman who works in a record store by day, is a bartender in a club by night, and who volunteers as a hip-hop dance instructor at the local youth center run by her mother. Honey dreams of someday breaking into the world of professional choreography and dance. She gets her opportunity when she is spotted by Michael Ellis (David Moscow), a music video director looking for hot new dancers. He offers her the chance to appear in a video by the rap artist Jadakiss.

Ellis is so impressed by Honey’s moves that he quickly offers her job after job as a dancer, then promotes her to choreographer. Before long, she is the biggest sensation in the hip-hop world, coming up with dance moves for the most popular names in the music business. On the downside, all this extra work takes away from her time with best friend Gina (Joy Bryant from Antoine Fisher) and the kids at the youth center. She initially gets the idea to use the local kids in one of the videos she’s working on, but the plan doesn’t quite come off. Then she hears that the youth center is going to be shut down due to health violations. Honey decides to organize a benefit show to raise money for a dance studio where all the kids could come to get their groove on.

Watching Honey, I was reminded of Glitter, the unspeakably awful film in which Mariah Carey played a girl who rocketed to music business fame after being discovered in a New York dance club. (To be fair, this movie is much better than that one…although most movies are). Both pictures want to show how an average person can be plucked from obscurity and catapulted into celebrity. Unfortunately, both movies are pretty hard to swallow, relying on coincidences and plot manipulations to get their central characters to a place of prominence. A much more interesting – and authentic – movie on the subject is 8 Mile, which effectively depicted the way a struggling rapper can enter hip-hop’s world by accumulating enough street cred.

Honey doesn’t have time for realism though, because the movie is more interested in the destination than in the journey. It’s in such a hurry to show how Honey “makes it” that all sense of believability gets lost. There’s also a time-compression issue here that makes the film occasionally laughable. Movies have to be economical; they have little time for anything that doesn’t directly advance the plot. Honey takes that to an extreme. For instance, the main character spends weeks organizing this dance benefit. She makes fliers, does promotion, and charges people $20 for admission. Before the show starts, she gives a dramatic speech to a full house. Then the kids come onstage and perform exactly one number. When it’s over, they pull Honey up onstage while the audience applauds wildly and screams for an encore. Hey, if I paid twenty bucks for a 4-minute recital, you can bet that I’d be demanding more too.

It’s probably pretty obvious that this movie is rather goofy at times. I’m sure you can also predict many of the plot developments. You can no doubt surmise that Michael will eventually reveal himself to be a schmuck who blacklists Honey after she refuses his sexual advances. You will not be surprised when one of Honey’s young dance students (played by rapper Lil Romeo) reverts to a life of crime when the youth center is closed. You will not have a doubt in your mind whether Gina will forgive Honey for dropping her like a bad habit the second show business called. This is formulaic stuff, plain and simple.

Having said all this, I have to be honest and admit that Honey is not a terrible movie. Oh sure, it sounds terrible but, despite some pretty destructive flaws, the film generates a certain charm. Most of this is due to a cast of actors who are overflowing with charisma. Take Jessica Alba. Her part does not require a lot of acting prowess. She mostly has to look good and dance well, and Alba succeeds on both counts. Honey could have come across as either a goody-goody or an airhead; the actress gives her an instant likeability, while injecting enough sass to keep us rooting for her. Mekhi Pfeiffer co-stars as Honey’s boyfriend Chaz, a local barber. His part is neither huge nor significant, but he has so much on-screen charm that you can’t help but take notice. The rest of the cast – including rapper Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot – also brings some much-needed energy to the film. With a bad cast, Honey would have been insufferable to sit through; with this cast, it is elevated to the level of at least being watchable, if not quite recommendable.

The other saving grace, naturally, is the dancing, which is certainly impressive. (Director Bille Woodruff comes from the world of music videos and naturally shows a flair for this sort of thing.) The hip-hop fueled soundtrack isn’t bad either, and it’s fun watching various musicians in cameos. I only wish Honey could have been a little smarter about its subject matter. All the other elements were in place to make a movie that really had something worthwhile to say. What we have instead is a moderately entertaining movie that has a nice beat, although I can’t quite dance to it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Honey is rated PG-13 for drug content and some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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