As sweet and undemanding as its name, "Honey" goes down smooth and simple. Given the nominally gritty urban music world it takes place in, that's a reality-defying accomplishment of a classically Hollywood kind.
Set in a sanitized South Bronx that has more warmhearted huggers than coldblooded muggers, "Honey" is an Andy Hardy hip-hop movie, a genial young person's fantasy earnestly dedicated to the proposition that "finding something that makes you happy is a million times better than finding something that makes you rich." Now, who can argue with that?
Echoing everything from "Fame" to "Flashdance," "Honey" stars Jessica Alba, of TV's "Dark Angel," as a young woman who's gotta follow her dream and dance, dance, dance. She may be beautiful, she may be talented, she may have the flattest stomach in the New York metropolitan area, but, hey, don't think it'll be easy.
To get a kick out of "Honey" if you're out of its intended demographic (i.e., old enough to vote), you have to have a fondness for the familiar, for the way the movie business is tirelessly able to take the oldest wine and fit it into hip — make that hip-hugging — new bottles.
Essential in making this happen is the energy that people relatively new to the movies (star Alba, video director Bille Woodruff, writers Alonzo Brown & Kim Watson) are likeliest to muster. Their earnest good cheer in the face of an ending in which, in true Andy Hardy fashion, the kids really do put on a show, makes "Honey" something of a novelty in the cynical "Bad Santa" world we live in.
We meet Honey Daniels smiling beatifically behind the bar of a hot dance club. When her shift is over and her gal-pal Gina ("Antwone Fisher's" Joy Bryant) is there to protect her back, Honey takes to the dance floor, hoping to be discovered as she puts on the hottest moves her come-hither outfits allow.
But yo, just because Honey is hip to provocative threads, that doesn't mean she isn't a good girl. She volunteers teaching hip-hop dancing at her local youth center, a happiest-place-on-Earth establishment run by her mother (the veteran Lonette McKee), a woman never too busy dealing with rotting pipes to remind her classically trained daughter that "hip-hop can't take you places ballet can."
As if all that wasn't character-building enough, Honey takes so much interest in a pair of young brothers from the 'hood (Lil' Romeo and Zachary Isaiah Williams) who are in danger of falling in with the wrong crowd that, differences in clothing styles aside, images of Spencer Tracy as kindly Father Flanagan in "Boys Town" come insistently to mind.
Given all this activity, it's no wonder that Honey barely has the time to acknowledge the attentions of local good guy Chaz (Mekhi Phifer), the neighborhood barber with yet another great smile whose shop looks like the set for, well, "Barbershop" and who appreciates Honey for the great person she is. Really.
One man whose calls she does return is top video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow), who picks Honey out of a crowd by insisting to an underling, "not her, her." Quicker than you can say "Saturday Night Fever," she's dancing up a storm in trendy videos, meeting hip-hoppers like Ginuwine, getting her feet wet as a choreographer and dreaming of making enough money to start a dance studio in the 'hood.
But as velvet ropes open and glamour beckons, will Honey forget the old neighborhood and her old pals? Will she allow the forces of evil to corrupt her young friends? And, more important, can she trust Ellis to keep their relationship strictly professional? So many questions, so little time.
If you're in the mood for a hip-hop film with more happy faces than "The Partridge Family," "Honey" will divert you. Capturing its spirit exactly is the film's most celebrated cameo performer, Missy Elliott, who all but winks at the audience as she delivers her broadly written lines. Elliott's clearly amused as heck at what's happening around her, and that's definitely the attitude to have.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for drug content and some sexual references
Times guidelines: Relatively mild as these things go
Jessica Alba ... Honey Daniels
Mekhi Phifer ... Chaz
Lil' Romeo ... Benny
Joy Bryant ... Gina
David Moscow ... Michael Ellis
A Marc Platt/Nuamerica production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Bille Woodruff. Producers Marc Platt, Andre Harrell. Executive producer Billy Higgins. Screenplay Alonzo Brown & Kim Watson. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Editors Mark Helfrich, Emma E. Hickox. Costumes Susan Matheson. Music Mervyn Warren. Production design Jasna Stefanovic. Art director Anastasia Masaro. Set decorator Steven Essam. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.