Judge Brett Cullum would send this disc to the moon, but does Alice need any more abuse?
Our reviews of The Color Honeymooners: Collection 1 (published June 27th, 2006), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 2 (published March 10th, 2008), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 3 (published May 21st, 2008), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4 (published August 20th, 2008), The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes (Blu-ray) (published May 28th, 2014), The Honeymooners: The Classic 39 Episodes (published November 25th, 2003), and The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes (The Complete Restored Series 1951-1957) (published November 8th, 2011) are also available.
Ralph Kramden: One of these days, you're gonna push me too far.
Take a classic '50s sitcom, cast black actors in all the leads, neuter any of the dialogue to keep the movie acceptable for today's audiences, film the movie in Ireland when it takes place in New York City, and you have a recipe for disaster. The Honeymooners looked and sounded dismal, and early lethal reviews seemed to affirm these feelings. I wasn't tempted. But then I read a surprisingly positive review from Roger Ebert, and still avoided this film like the plague. I ended up asking for a copy of The Honeymooners to review because I thought it might be fun to tear this flick apart. But you know what? Five seconds in to the movie, I had a smile on my face, and it was still there at the end of it. I'm here to tell you the movie isn't as bad as you heard, and Ebert's thumbs up was actually kind of right. It's not a great movie, and it's definitely not the remake I would want of the classic show, but it was surprisingly a fun and spry entry in the pointless remake genre. You could do a lot worse than what ended up on the screen, and in the end I walked out thinking "not too bad."
Yes, Cedric the Entertainer (Be Cool) is cast in the original Jackie Gleason role of Ralph Kramden. But can you tell me of any other comedian who personifies a working-class stiff who is heavy and larger than life? There aren't many out there, and Cedric actually does an admirable job of taking the basic foundation of Gleason's schtick and making it his own. Gabrielle Union (Deliver Us From Eva) is cast as Alice, and though she is a far cry from the series version, it makes sense next to Cedric. Mike Epps (All About the Benjamins) plays Ed Norton, and evokes Art Carney ever so subtly. Regina Hall (Scary Movie) is an outright scream as Trixie, and she has the advantage of playing a character that was never truly fleshed out in the original. They are actually a pretty strong cast who could recreate the series pretty well.
The biggest problem here is the gang is working with a script that has been (pardon the pun) whitewashed. The original series from the '50s had all of those infamous references of Ralph promising to send Alice "to the moon," and it just couldn't work in today's sensitive world where domestic violence is not funny. By updating The Honeymooners, you lose what made the show a product of its time, and that makes this a strange retrofit to the previous incarnation. The color blind casting works like gangbusters; the fact that they have nothing to do in the current climate is what kills it. Changing the skin color? No big deal. Changing the period? You have nothing to work with.
In this big screen adaptation, Ralph and Alice Kramden are living in a dilapidated apartment building. She dreams of her own home, and he dreams of getting rich quick to make her dream come true. The upstairs neighbors, Ed and Trixie Norton, are also the couple's best friends. Ed helps Ralph with his schemes, and Trixie works with Alice in a local diner. The girls catch wind of a charming duplex up for sale, and decide to go in together with their mutual savings to cash in on their American dream. Problem is Ralph and Ed have invested all the savings into a series of ludicrous investments including buying Mets shirts, winning an auction of an underground train car, and finding and training a greyhound to race that came out of a dumpster. The financial strain of Ralph's schemes threatens to make them lose the duplex, and make Alice have second thoughts about her marriage. Can Ralph and Ed come up with a way to save the day?
The movie is silly and sweet. It lacks a lot of logic, but director John Schultz (Like Mike) and his team of production designers certainly make everything look pretty. It's a handsomely made film, and for what it is (a pointless remake) seems fine. The supporting cast fares well, with a hilarious scene stealing turn by John Leguizamo (Land of the Dead) as a Hispanic dog trainer,and Jon Polito (The Crow) as a grand owner of a Jersey dog track. Eric Stolz (Rules of Attraction) shows up as the real estate developer out to buy the duplex out from under our heroes, and he's fine in a role that is underdeveloped. The comedy never really takes off to be laugh out-loud funny, but it's amiable and elicited a lot of smiles from me.
The DVD treatment is baffling. In an age of "unrated" editions for everything under the sun, Paramount has released a PG-13 movie as a PG cut. What? Yes, that's right—this edition of The Honeymooners is edited to secure a more family friendly rating. It also is only available in full screen. The film is beautifully shot, and they decided to pare down the visuals to fit the old square televisions for some strange reason. Oddly enough, the deleted scenes in the extras are all widescreen. I guess the strategy here is to make the film more appealing to Middle America. I hope this is a trend that starts and stops here, because it seems backwards. Why not just release it on VHS?
The extras aren't bad. We get a "making of" featurette, which offers comparisons of the film to the source series. There's a commentary with the director and Cedric and Mike Epps that was recorded several weeks before the film's theatrical release. John Schultz and Cedric seem unaware the movie is going to flop, but Epps bails out halfway through for a court date involving his mother-in-law to get out of having to discuss anything further. I think he knew the film was doomed. We get deleted scenes that don't add up to much, but they are interesting just to see some goofy ad libs that never made the final version. The fullscreen transfer is of course cropped but remarkably clear. The colors are warm, and there's never a problem with clarity or black levels. The sound mix is a nice surround that serves the comedy just fine.
I wouldn't run out and buy this movie, and I never even intended on renting it. But if I was faced with the prospect of having to sit through it because a family member came home from the video store with this one in hand, I'd have been pleasantly surprised to find out it's not too painful. The remake was pointless, but the end product is nowhere near as bad as it should have been. And call me crazy, but it was very nice to see four black actors in a story about love and making dreams come true without anyone falling in to stereotypes. The only problem is they became bland, boring stereotypical white people. Is that really progress? In some odd way it is. And is the fact I didn't run screaming with my eyes covered from an awful remake progress? Sure. Bottom line—it wasn't that bad. I actually survived the experience with a smile. The damn movie should have never been made, but it wasn't the black hole of suckitude I thought it was going to be. It was actually slightly charming.
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