I love the “Honeymooners” television show as much as the next classic TV fan. Ralph and Alice Kramden were the original dysfunctional but loving couple while Ed and Trixie Norton were the perfect comedic neighbors. Throw in Ralph’s incessant money-making schemes, Ed’s innocent bumbling and the constant wiseacre common sense of their wives and you had the makings of a brilliant weekly television show. It doesn’t work so well when you try to stretch it out into a ninety-minute long episode and call it a movie.
The characters in The Honeymooners are written remarkably close to the original series. Ralph is an “entrepreneur” with a new scheme each month to make a quick and easy fortune. He drives a bus as he waits for one of those ingenious plans to pay off. Alice works in a diner to help make ends meet and serves as the sarcastic voice of reason for Ralph’s harebrained plans. They can’t be within ten feet of each other for ten minutes without breaking into a fight, but that’s how they can tell they still love each other.
In this triple-length episode, Alice and her neighbor/best friend Trixie have grown tired of living in their run down apartment building. They discover a lovely duplex where the couples could live instead. All they need is their combined meager life savings plus $10,000 more for the down payment. Alice decides to ask her mother for the money, a plan which doesn’t sit well with proud and heady Ralph. He and his best friend Ed (Trixie’s husband) strike out on their own with a crazy plan that involves the life-savings, an old train car, a greyhound pup rescued from a city dumpster and a shady, not-quite-right-in-the-head dog trainer named Dodge.
The Honeymooners isn’t so much a bad movie as it isn’t a great one. The plot isn’t so exciting, the characters aren’t vibrant like they should be and the comedy just isn’t very funny. I appreciate, though, the tough spot that John Schultz found himself in as director. On the one hand he has the hilarious comedic skills of Cedric the Entertainer and John Leguizamo but on the other he has some responsibility to the original mood and nature of the television series. He seems to pick the latter every time, and the times he doesn’t turn out to lackluster scenes of inane humor. To his credit, Schultz gives a nod to the improvisational talent of his cast by including outtakes at the end of the show. Unfortunately, I laughed harder at those than at anything in the movie itself.
True fans of the television series (the ones who aren’t angry that the movie isn’t worthy of its title anyway) will enjoy countless nods to the classic episodes. Honeymooners’ writing team may not have been able to come up with a clever plot, but they know the old show well and have woven it in here and there providing a pleasant nostalgic effect. I’ve maybe only seen one full season’s worth, but still managed to catch some throw backs; no doubt there were many more I missed. Too bad much of it will go right over most audience member’s heads.
Cedric the Entertainer was a reasonable choice for Ralph but he hardly begins to fill the large shoes left behind by Jackie Gleason. Mr. the Entertainer ends up channeling the Carl Winslow character from TV’s “Family Matters”, looking and sounding very much like a younger Reginald VelJohnson. Gabrielle Union, who plays Alice, comes across like a youthful version of Hariette Winslow; throw in Ed and Trixie as potential parents for Steve Urkel, and you might as well have called the movie Family Matters: The Early Years.
The good laughs come from the cameo characters scattered throughout. Bus riders Ajay Naidu (of Office Space fame) and Anne Pitoniak, Carol Woods who plays Alice’s mother, and Kim Chan (token humorous Asian old-man in countless films) steal their scenes and, ironically, provide the comic relief in a comedy film.
The movie is a conundrum, neither horrible nor particularly spectacular. No doubt many will be disappointed that it bears the name of the almost legendary television show, but given Hollywood’s obsession with rehashing TV it’s the kind of treatment I’ve come to expect. With a few slight adjustments The Honeymooners could have easily shaken itself free of its PG-13 shackle and drawn more of the audience for whom its comedy feels geared. Still, it’s a pleasant little movie that would work for a light-hearted first date or a rental on a weekend when you can’t find anything else to watch. Just don’t expect it to take you to the moon.