But audiences will, and should, put up with even the most out-there take on the material as long as they're laughing. However, enlivening such a tossed-off, punchless script is a fool's errand. Cedric the Entertainer, an enjoyable comic actor whose primary weapons are charm and family-appropriate cruelty (in other words, Ralph Kramden), has the talent to win us over. But when dropped in the middle of such a lifeless movie, he founders. Ultimately, those familiar with the original will be insulted. Those unfamiliar with the original will be bored.
As in its small screen predecessor, Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer) is a Brooklyn bus driver who lives with wife Alice (Gabrielle Union). Ralph is constantly on the lookout for schemes that will guarantee instant riches. Some of his failed ideas include a Pet Cactus and a Y2K Survival Kit, neither of which are funny enough to appear in a "Tonight Show" desk bit. Ralph's neighbor is Ed Norton (Mike Epps), a New York City sewer worker married to Trixie (Regina Hall). When Alice and Trixie see a chance for both families to purchase a Brooklyn duplex, Ralph must come up with the Kramden half of the downpayment. Unfortunately, yet typically, he loses it buying an old railcar that Ed discovered underneath the city. But hope springs when Ed finds a mutt named Iggy who can run like the wind, and they manage to get him entered into a major dog race. Iggy's trainer is played by John Leguizamo, who briefly threatens to make the audience laugh (dollars to donuts his best lines were ad-libbed). When Alice figures out that Ralph lost their downpayment and their chance at home ownership rests on the results of a dog race, she begins to think he loves his schemes more than he loves her.
Cutting right to it, "The Honeymooners" is DOA. Schultz ("Like Mike") has no clue how to present venerable material in an updated, entertaining fashion and his direction is so flat that episodes of "Malcolm in the Middle" are more stylish. He especially fumbles the slapstick moments, like when Ed tries to lock a Japanese businessman out of the room during the auction for the railcar. The script is witless and desperate, going so far as to lift a 71-year-old Dizzy Dean malapropism about having his head x-rayed and the doctors finding nothing. The pretty Gabrielle Union has little of the spunk that Audrey Meadows brought to the role of Alice. Actually, it's Alice's mom (called "Alice's Mom" in the credits and played by Carol Woods) who cuts down Ralph with a satirical blade passed down from the original character. Epps never quite gets a handle on Ed Norton. At times, Ed seems like a pothead; at other times, he seems retarded. Eric Stoltz does community service by attempting the weakly written role of a realtor trying to buy the duplex before Trixie and Alice can get their money together.
Since "The Honeymooners" is not a respectful tribute to the original, nor does it stand on its own, a beloved piece of American entertainment has officially been besmirched. Starring Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall. Directed by John Schultz. Written by Barry Blaustein & David Sheffield and Danny Jacobson and Don Rhymer. Produced by Julie Durk, David T. Friendly, Eric Rhone and Marc Turtletaub. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some innuendo and rude humor. Running time: 90 min