The appeal of the Everyman is that he can, in theory, be played by Anyman. At least, that's what the producers of The Honeymooners would like us to think, and to a certain extent, they're right. The film is loosely based on the classic 1950s sitcom that starred Jackie Gleason as a bus driver who was always thinking up ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes, and Art Carney as his somewhat dim neighbor who worked in the sewers. The film replaces these blue-collar Irishmen with blue-collar African Americans, and why not? As Ralph Kramden, Cedric the Entertainer has Gleason's heft and his capacity for irritation—though his facial expressions are much more limited, which is a real drawback when he's angry—and as Ed Norton, Mike Epps is as affable and dedicated a foil as Carney ever was.
Times have changed, though, and the new film all but eliminates some things that were acceptable half a century ago while adding other elements that would never have made it past Broadcast Standards. Domestic violence is no longer a fit subject for comedy, so Ralph's flamboyant threats to punch his wife "right in the kisser" or to send her "right to the moon" have been written out of the script or, in the latter case, turned on its head; now, when Ralph first meets and falls in love with Alice (Gabrielle Union), he tells her in a state of romantic optimism, "I'll take you to the moon, Alice." Meanwhile, Ralph's more physical outbursts are all directed at Norton, or reduced to a scene in which Ralph mutters under his breath, to himself, that he would like to take "just one swing" at his mother-in-law.
Meanwhile, the humor relies just a wee bit more on sexual innuendo. Norton, the sewer man, pays an early visit to the Kramdens' apartment to fix their pipes, and when it becomes clear that he's not cut out for house calls, he admits, "I do my best work down below." At this, his wife Trixie (Regina Hall), who is also visiting the apartment, says with relish, "Now that is true, baby." Later, in a scene where Ralph and Norton are hanging from a fire escape, Norton, convinced that he's going to die, confesses that he once saw Alice naked through the window, "and sometimes, I think about it." And then there is the scene where Norton has Ralph make a promise by swearing on the "family jewels." That sort of thing.
The story itself is like a pastiche of classic sitcom episodes, set within a framing narrative about the Kramdens' and Nortons' efforts to buy a place of their own. Alice and Trixie work at a local diner, and one day they learn that one of their regular customers, an elderly woman, is on the verge of leaving the neighborhood and selling her duplex to an arrogant developer (Eric Stoltz). They persuade the woman, who would rather see her home stay intact, to put off the sale for two weeks while they round up enough money for a down payment, and this gives Ralph—who has already lost money on Y2K survival kits and other failed ideas—yet another reason to come up with a few quick-buck schemes.
Alas, a few of these schemes require Ralph to dip into the Kramden family's savings account, and he does this without checking with his wife first. When he learns that an old train is being put up for auction, he buys it, with plans of creating his own guided-tour business—but then he realizes that, without tracks, he has no way of moving the train from its resting spot below the city streets. Later, he and Norton rescue a dog from a dumpster, and when they discover that it can run pretty fast, they try to enter it in a race. Along the way, they also pose as blind beggars, breakdance for busking money, and scan the park with metal detectors, looking for precious metals, or at least a few coins. Meanwhile, Alice invites her mother (Carol Woods) over for dinner, to ask her for a loan, and Ralph, of course, has difficulty keeping his cool around the in-law.
The most fully developed of these subplots involves the dog, whose work on the racetrack is overseen by a would-be trainer named Dodge (John Leguizamo). Dodge has some of the film's funnier lines, but he also represents the sleaziest departure from the spirit of the original sitcom. First seen sucking gasoline out of someone else's car, he goes on to pick pockets and talk about his girlfriends; of one of them, he says, "I don't want to marry her for her money, but I don't know how else to get it." In one of the film's few pop culture references, Dodge tries to motivate the dog by paraphrasing a line from Scarface: "You get the power, and then you get the bitches!" He then repeats this last word for emphasis.
The strange thing is, while humor like this would have been beyond the pale for a 1950s sitcom, it is actually quite tame by today's standards. And given that The Honeymooners is credited to several writers whose past works include the Nutty Professor movies and Big Momma's House, we should probably count ourselves lucky that there aren't any flatulence jokes in this one (at least, not that I remember). The film has its pleasures—Epps's knack for physical comedy is particularly amusing, a sort of graceful gracelessness you might say—and the final scene cleverly finds a way to provide the happy ending that movies like this seem to require while also continuing to frustrate the characters' ambitions, just as they were typically frustrated on Gleason's show back in the day. The Honeymooners is an acceptable diversion, but fans of the original series probably won't care for it, and the rest of us could probably get the same kind of entertainment in our living rooms, for free.Discussion starters
- How important is material or financial success? How eagerly should we pursue it? What sorts of risks should we be prepared to take? How content should we be with our current lot in life?
- How do we find community in the big city? How do you think the Kramdens and Nortons met? Why do you think we see few, if any, of their neighbors? Does the film encourage us to see the good side of the neighborhood in which the Kramdens and Nortons live, or is it portrayed as something to escape?
- Why do you think a smart woman like Alice married a man like Ralph? Why do you think she stays with him? What does their relationship say about the role of communication in marriage? Do you think they have a good marriage? What would make it better?
- The film shows the Kramdens and Nortons praying before dinner. Where else might prayer have been helpful? Before planning to buy the house? Before investing in any of Ralph's get-rich-quick schemes?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Honeymooners is rated PG-13 for some innuendo and rude humor, most of which is described above. There are also a few mild profanities, and Alice's mother also huffs a line to the effect that Jesus should "quit making movies and answer the prayers of a righteous woman."
Photos © Copyright Paramount Picturescompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 06/16/05
Those who remember the original television series "The Honeymooners" will prefer it to the new remake starring Mike Epps and Cedric the Entertainer—director John Schultz's The Honeymooners. Those who aren't familiar with the 1950s sitcom, well, they'll probably be disappointed too.
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) writes, "Schultz's not terribly objectionable but ultimately bland film is nowhere near the much-loved series in either tone or laugh quotient. Stick with the TV reruns instead."
"It's refreshing that there's no hint of physical abuse in Ralph and Alice's marriage this time around," says Tom Neven (Plugged In). "But that's the only uplifting thing about the film." He criticizes the comedy for not being funny, and dislikes its "wink-wink approach to lying and cheating as well as some sexual innuendo and profanity."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) asks, "How can any filmmaker or actor hope to measure up to what many consider to be the perfect example of comedic casting? Bottom line—they can't and they don't. Perhaps if the original cast members weren't still so vividly etched in our memories, the new experience would be more enjoyable. But, as it is, these new Honeymooners have been eclipsed by the stellar work done by their predecessors more than 50 years ago."
For mainstream critics, the film's more like a punishment than a honeymoon.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.