THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Summer 2005 will bring us movie versions of old TV shows such as Bewitched and The Dukes of Hazzard, but the first one out of the gate is The Honeymooners. Cedric the Entertainer plays New York City bus driver Ralph Kramden, who lives with wife Alice (Gabrielle Union) in a tiny apartment right next to the train tracks. Living upstairs are their best friends, Ed and Trixie Norton (Mike Epps and Regina Hall).

Alice and Trixie work as waitresses in a diner, where they overhear that the little old lady who lives up the street is planning to sell her spacious duplex to greedy land developer William Davis (Eric Stoltz). Having long wanted to invest in a duplex together, the couples need to come up with about $20,000 as a down payment. They have only a few days to get the money in order to keep Davis from claiming the property. Unfortunately, Ralph keeps blowing what little savings he has on a series of increasingly idiotic get-rich-quick schemes. He continually manages to pull Ed into these money-losing schemes as well.

One afternoon, Ed and Ralph find a greyhound in a trash dumpster. Dubbing him Iggy, they decide to enter him in a race, then use their winnings to buy the duplex. First, they have to convince track manager Kirby (Jon Polito) to let their dog race. Then they have to deal with shady trainer Dodge (John Leguizamo) whom they’ve hired to teach Iggy how to run competitively. On race day, there is a great deal of stress because if Iggy loses, all chances of buying the house are gone.

What you think of The Honeymooners is likely to depend on your feelings toward the original show. If you are a hardcore Jackie Gleason/Art Carney fan, then you will probably have no use for this film. That’s because it isn’t your typical TV-to-film adaptation. It doesn’t pat itself on the back with endless references to the original show (as the obnoxious Brady Bunch movies did), nor does it engage in self-parody (like the Starsky & Hutch movie), nor does it maintain a slavish faithfulness to the source material. In fact, the film borrows the character names/traits and a few situations, then more or less goes its own way. As I recall, the TV show took place primarily in Ralph Kramden’s apartment; the movie hardly takes place there at all. The characters are out and about much more. The Honeymooners bares only a passing resemblance to the show on which it’s based.

If – like me – you have no particular fondness for the show, then this is passable (but not remarkable) entertainment. The performances are actually quite good. Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps don’t overplay the material; they create solid, likeable characters who have a friendship that is more complex than either of them realize. Both comedians take their parts seriously and don’t fall into the trap of trying to act like Gleason and Carney. Instead, they bring a fresh energy to Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall are also good as the wives, who are certainly smarter than their husbands. The primary joy of The Honeymooners is watching this terrific group of actors create their own vibe to an already famous set of characters.

The problem is that, as good as the acting is, the movie just doesn’t deliver big laughs. There are a few (such as the way Iggy’s race resolves itself) but not enough to warrant a full recommendation. The whole subplot involving the greedy land developer has been done a billion times, and it’s no fresher or funnier here. The dog racing stuff is comical at times but often gets bogged down with Dodge’s criminal antics. I have some real affection for The Honeymooners because I liked the core cast so much. They’re fun to watch. I just wish that everything else was on the same level.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Honeymooners is rated PG-13 for some innuendo and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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