CBS aired 39 episodes of "The Honeymooners" between 1955 and 1956, and every last one of them runs comedic circles around the lumbering, moribund movie adaptation that arrives in theaters today.
It’s not like the public was clamoring for a "Honeymooners" movie anyway. The show survives in the popular imagination mainly by virtue of Nickelodeon life support, and 50-year-old product tie-ins have proved historically unprofitable. So why did Paramount (which currently holds distribution rights to the show) do it?
It surely wasn’t the script or new-look cast. "Barbershop" star Cedric the Entertainer, as hot-tempered New York bus driver Ralph Kramden, does all right, roaring his way to some of the lovableloser mystique that made Jackie Gleason synonymous with the role. But Mike Epps ("Next Friday") is a disaster as the Art Carney/Ed Norton character — I can’t recall a modern movie performance quite so irritating — and neither of the female leads, Gabrielle Union ("Bring It On") or Regina Hall ("Scary Movie"), inspires anything as modest as a smile.
Set in modern times, "The Honeymooners" finds Ralph doing his usual thing, trying to get rich on plastic pet cactuses, commemorative Mets World Series T-shirts and other dubious schemes of fortune. Long-suffering wife Alice (Union) wants to use their savings to put a down payment on a nice little duplex, but Ralph manages to blow it on an antique railway car that he envisions converting into a tour bus.
For reasons he failed to anticipate, that scheme falls apart, forcing Ralph and best buddy Ed to conceal their gaffe and come up with other, even zanier methods to make money. Sad thing is, neither director John Schultz ("Drive Me Crazy") nor the four professional screenwriters hired to tag-team the script have the imagination to devise anything but the most hoary gags and machinations: Villainous real estate developers (take a bow, Eric Stoltz), a day at the racetrack and, yes, the old cayenne pepper in the chicken. Later, there’s even a nose-picking joke. I think I smell Oscar.
Recasting "The Honeymooners" with actors of color was not, in and of itself, a bad idea — blue-collar ambition and marital friction being not a strictly white phenomenon. Even so, "The Honeymooners" lacks sass. When Ralph’s trademark "Boom! Right to the moon, Alice!" is changed into a lovey-dovey promise of commitment, we know the honeymoon is all but over.