Up in TV Valhalla, the ghosts of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney can rest easy. They won't be dislodged from our memories by the glossy new movie, "The Honeymooners," which takes Gleason's most famous creationthe domestic adventures of Ralph Kramden, New York City bus driverand transforms it into the usual TV series knockoff movie mush.
But the movie suffers from a devastating flaw for a comedy: It isn't very funny. As we watch Cedric's Ralph and his desperate strategies to make money for a new home for Alice, we get the setup for many an old Gleason show recounting Ralph's dreams of glory, Norton's inept assistance, the inevitable crash and the equally inevitable "Baby, you're the greatest!" clinch between Ralph and endlessly tolerant Alice. (Gabrielle Union plays the old Audrey Meadows part.) But, though the patterns are there, the laughs aren't, mostly because the writing is so lazy and formulaic.
In the movie, Ralph's dream involves a bidding war over a suburban home with a slimy real estate speculator (Eric Stoltz), and such foredoomed get-rich-quick schemes as the purchase of a vintage subway train car, dog-racing with a greyhound Norton rescues from a dumpster and even some panhandling and performance art. The dog racing allows screen time for Jon Polito (the gangster from "Miller's Crossing") as a racing nabob and John Leguizamo as a dog trainer-hustler. Leguizamo is usually a surefire laugh-getter, as is Cedric. But they're all snared by the script.
What went wrong with the movie is amply displayed in a scene where Ralph nefariously spices up the dinner of his mouthy mother-in-law (Carol Woods) to make her sick and is then forced to eat the stuff himself. The moviemakers and Cedric build the scene up, get us laughing and then drop it, where, in their classic scenes, a Gleason and a Carney would have kept the situation going until we were helpless. Great comedy, which is what we don't see here, often involves going too far, and then going further.
The old "Honeymooners" was Gleason's baby, but here no one seems in charge, including director John Schultz ("Like Mike"). We don't get the rough-hewn, populist bite of the show, just as we don't get Gleason's seraphic nuttiness or the loosey-goosey reactions of Carney. Despite the best efforts of Cedric and Epps, and they do have their moments, "The Honeymooners" just keeps rambling along until we get to the credits. The funniest line in the entire show may be the revelation that "The Honeymooners" was shot on location in Ireland, with help from Irish government funds.
If you're going Irish, why not go all the way? Why not Ralph O'Kramden? Ed McNorton? Cedric the Leprechaun? Shooting "The Honeymooners" in Dublin, with a few New York City exteriors, is funnier than most of what the movie's four writers dream up. Maybe they should have gone on a honeymoon.
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Directed by John Schultz; written by Danny Jacobson, David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Don Rhymer; based on characters from the CBS television series; photographed by Shawn Maurer; edited by John Pace; production designed by Charles Wood; music by Richard Gibbs; produced by David T. Friendly, Marc Turtletaub. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:29. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some innuendo and rude humor).
Ralph Kramden - Cedric the Entertainer
Ed Norton - Mike Epps
Alice Kramden - Gabrielle Union
Trixie Norton - Regina Hall
William Davis - Eric Stoltz
Dodge - John Leguizamo
Kirby - Jon Polito
Alice's Mom - Carol Woods