Ever since Jennifer Beals sashayed on-screen back in 1983 inspiring the ripped, asymmetrical T-shirt and legwarmers trend―as Alex Owens, a part-time welder and exotic dancer with aspirations of becoming a prima ballerina, Hollywood has spent the last 20 years trying to find a worthy replacement for their cult-like heroine. During that time, they’ve produced a number of really bad dance movies―including Center Stage, Fast Forward, and the all time worst, Showgirls, starring a slew of pretty, no talent wannabes (Yes, Elizabeth Berkley that means you), who could barely dance, let alone act. But, now thanks to Honey―the new hip-hop film starring TV’s Jessica Alba (Dark Angel) all that’s about to change.
Set in a sanitized version of the South Bronx, Honey tells the sweet, but formulaic fable of Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba), a 22-year-old inner-city dancer who gets discovered by an arrogant music-video director named Michael Ellis (David Moscow, Just Married), while shakin’ her groove thang’ at the neighborhood nightclub where she’s a bartender. Only to become an overnight hip-hop sensation, who goes from fresh faced, super fly backup dancer to world class choreographer faster than Missy Elliott can shout, “Dang, girl. Ya flava’s hot!”
Meanwhile, as Honey’s busy choreographing a collection of tight dance routines for Jadakiss, Tweet, and Ginuwine―one that comes directly from the B-ball courts of the ‘hood―Benny (Lil’ Romeo) and Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams), the two brothers she met break dancing outside the club on the night she got her big break, are in dire need of some sisterly support. Benny and Raymond had been regularly attending Honey’s dance class at the community center, but when she hits the road to hang with a posse of A-list hip-hop artists, so do they. Only instead of kickin’ it with Missy and company, like their sugar-sweet Honey, they start runnin’ with a group of drug pushers, prompting Benny to end up in juvie.
Heartbroken by Benny’s arrest, Honey begins to reexamine her life, placing family and friends, like Gina (Joy Bryant) and Chaz (Mekhi Phifer), before a budding career that seems destined for greatness. That is, until Michael, the smarmy video director, decides to help himself to a little Honey as payment for his protégé’s sudden career boost.
Of course, Honey being the virtuous young woman that she is, isn’t one to trade sex for business, so when she dismisses Michael’s advances, she ends up getting blacklisted from the music industry, leaving her with an ingenious idea to open a dance school for underprivileged kids.
As clichéd as it sounds, Honey is a winning film that will likely be accused of being genre fluff simply because it takes the moral high ground, giving viewers a strong female character who doesn’t compromise her integrity for 15 minutes of fame. Director Bille Woodruff―a former music-video director who’s produced a myriad of Top-10 videos for Britney Spears and Outkast―has created a film that celebrates the positive side of hip-hop rather than the notorious, crime-ridden one, seen recently in the critically acclaimed documentary, Tupac: Ressurection. Cameo appearances by Jadakiss, Ginuwine, and Missy Elliott reinforce the film’s theme that hip-hop is about social change, not the perpetuation of violence.
But it’s Jessica Alba’s stunning turn as the hip-hop humanitarian with a strong set of abs and an even stronger social conscience that truly gives this message credence. Alba, who does all her own dancing in the film, elevates Honey from a feel good, melodramatic cable-TV movie of the week to a sincere motion picture, filled with good, old-fashioned heart. Her performance, which will likely strike a chord with teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, is so natural and affecting that when Honey struggles to remain grounded and not buy into the hype of being “a star,” the audience can’t help but wonder if art is somehow imitating life.