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The Honeymooners

(2005) ** Pg-13
85 min. Paramount Pictures.

The Hollywood remake of The Honeymooners dots itself with a few allusions to the original 1955-1956 sitcom classic, which starred Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph: the swanky theme briefly swells up twice, and bombastic bus driver Ralph Kramden delivers the payoff line "Baby, you're the greatest" to his wife, though the show's famous (if toothless) threat of domestic violence "To the moon, Alice!" becomes "repurposed" as a romantic promise that Ralph will take Alice anywhere she'd like to go. Well, that's nice, but it's also a reminder that most remakes are unaffectionate scavengers, especially when pitched at an audience too young to remember the original show anyway.

The 2005 Ralph Kramden (played by Cedric the Entertainer) highlights the demographic shift when he sputters to his wife "You just a regular UPN sitcom, huh, Alice?" (for the record, The Honeymooners originally aired on CBS). The lively Cedric is as good a choice as any to play Ralph, the dreamer-schemer perpetually in pursuit of a get-rich-quick scenario, but the screenplay conspires to make Ralph much more benign and innocuous than Gleason's, whose slow-burn inevitably boiled over before circumstances returned to a semblance of order. This Ralph (who's prone to bust a move behind the wheel of his bus) bickers ineffectually with Alice (pleasant Gabrielle Union) and occasionally yells at Norton, but saves his vitriol, oh-so-conventionally, for his mother-in-law.

Mike Epps makes a strong effort as bumbling sewer technician Ed Norton, the dumb but sweet husband to Regina Hall's Trixie. Every ten minutes or so, there's a new sitcom plot for Ralph and Ed: a botched scam to capitalize on Mets fever, the auction purchase of an antique train car, the mother-in-law's complicating visit, the discovery of a mangy mutt disallowed by the friends' apartment building. Meanwhile, waitresses Alice and Trixie conspire to absorb a duplex from a little old lady who frequents their diner, but—horrors!—Eric Stoltz's rich, white developer wants it badly, and he'll stop at nothing to get it!

The plot that sticks, believe it or not, is the dog one, with Ralph and Ed barely convincing track-owner Jon Polito to let the galloping mongrel ("a survivor," insists Ralph, "like Rocky, Seabiscuit, Destiny's Child") into the races. They must work with a sketchy dog trainer named Dodge (an amusing John Leguizamo). Don't worry, folks, everything works out in the end, but The Honeymooners, though not bad, is hardly ever good, either. It's just there, mildly amusing and minding its own business. The movies are all about fakery, but still there's something very telling in the fact that this New York story was shot almost entirely in location in Ireland.

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