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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Honeymooners (review)

Bang, Pow, Ow

I wish I could say that the fact that Ralph Kramden’s M1 bus route, which should be taking him northbound up Madison Avenue, as the bus’s signage clearly indicates, is taking him southbound down Seventh Avenue, way the hell on the other side of Manhattan, was the biggest problem with this abysmal TV-to-movie adaptation. But actually, deciphering twisted bus routes was quite a pleasant distraction from the rest of the movie, which is torture.
From the moment the pseudo Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer: Madagascar, Be Cool) purrs to Alice (Gabrielle Union: Breakin’ All the Rules, Bad Boys II), by way of self-introduction: “I operate this machine” — indicating his bus — “and this machine” — shaking his tubby body and leering at her — you know you’re in for a trial, and one that has little connection to the classic sitcom so many people adore. I am not one of those people: I always found the Jackie Gleason show far too sad and predictable — Ralph’s gonna screw up again, right? And Alice will forgive him because otherwise she’d be out on the street? — to be enjoyable. But where Gleason went for pathos, this jury-rigged, half-assed “update” is simply pathetic, souping up its working-class world with tiresome sexual innuendo and throwing in some hip-hop tunes for the soundtrack and somehow managing, along the way, to turn fully rounded 1950s-era characters into thoroughly and unpleasantly retro stereotypes.

The entire film is like a would-be outrageous dream sequence within another desperately unfunny comedy, wherein the characters are imagining themselves in a retro black-and-white 1950s world… only this does a poorer job of capturing the ethos of the source material and misses the point of even badly executed such dream sequences, which is to send up outmoded attitudes, particularly the ones that still linger today. Would that The Honeymooners were even half as ambitious as that. Instead, it’s so self-consciously straining for yucks that it abandons all semblance of storytelling logic so that it can get to a brutally unfunny joke, as when Alice’s mom (Carol Woods) accuses Ralph of being a “pervert” with no justification whatsoever, and resulting in no laughs of any kind. (I don’t know what the hell to make of Alice’s mother lambasting Ralph for being fat, because she’s much heavier than he is. I’d say the film was shooting for irony, but director John Schultz appears to think that that has more to do with what you do to your pants to get a crease in them than with anything connected to humor.) Much of Mike Epps’s performance as Ed Norton appears to be an attempt to get a laugh or two, but it just looks uncomfortably like a shuck-and-jive that should have gone out in the 50s.

And then there’s Alice and Trixie (Regina Hall), who, in a non sequitur so head-scratchingly bizarre that it stops the film in its tracks, rail against the “villain” (Eric Stoltz: The Butterfly Effect, The Rules of Attraction) for being “crazy” when all he did was make a perfectly reasonable suggestion that they happened not to consider agreeable. (Stoltz, meanwhile, looks dumbfounded to find himself in this movie in the first place.) See, Stoltz’s real-estate developer is competing with the Kramdens and the Nortons to buy a lovely house in their Queens neighborhood (or is it Brooklyn?), and of course the Kramdens and the Nortons are having trouble coming up with the down payment because Ralph is constantly throwing away his and Alice’s savings on some moneymaking scheme. So he quite sensibly suggests that he buy the house and rent it to them. Now, this is not what the women had in mind, but it certainly isn’t “crazy,” but they keep insisting it is to the point at which I think there’s supposed to be some meaning to it, like “Isn’t it funny that this rich white man has no understanding of what po’ working-class black folk have to contend with?” But then, this is also a movie in which two moronic working-class black characters appear to be seeking to confirm a lot of unpleasant stereotypes, so I’m probably reading way too much into what is simply an atrocious script behind which there is no thought or intention except taking money from black audiences the filmmakers know are so desperate to see black faces onscreen that they’ll see any old crap at all.

Why the movie needed a “villain” at all is a mystery, because isn’t Ralph supposed to be his own worst enemy? He certain needs no assistance here to be so cartoonish stupid that you feel no sympathy for him whatsoever… and even less for Alice. There’s absolutely no reason for her to be sticking to this idiot, and indeed no reason for her to have married him in the first place. It’s remarkable to note that the borderline-abusive Ralph of the 1950s, with his constant threats of violence (oh, I know, they’re supposed to have been loving threats of violence) was a more believable devoted husband to a more believable aggrieved wife than this mushy, politically-corrected bag of drivel could ever hope to depict.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for some innuendo and rude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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