Film reviews and more since 2009

The Honeymooners (2005) review

Dir. John Schultz

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

You might recall a time in when Hollywood was obsessed with using old TV shows as the basis for contemporary films. The peak of this trend was quite literally the summer of 2005 when adaptations of The Honeymooners, Bewitched, and The Dukes of Hazzard were released over the span of two months (the former two released over two consecutive weeks in June of that year).

With The Dukes of Hazzard being the only profitable one of the three — and that’s counting the 2004 film Thunderbirds, although that was technically a British production — the film industry was hellbent on giving us movies almost nobody requested. Whatever nostalgic fondness you might have for Bewitched was sure to evaporate once you saw the trailer for the Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell feature. The Dukes of Hazzard might’ve had an eye-catching ensemble, with Johnny Knoxville, Willie Nelson, and pop singer Jessica Simpson, but it didn’t make up the lack of a brain in its head.

Then there’s The Honeymooners, arguably the most forgotten of the bunch. This was the one of the three that ostensibly wanted to be faithful to the spirit of the show without directly emulating the look and feel. That’s evident in predominately African-American cast. Imagine if this movie was made in 2024 in an era defined by angry internet users rallying against “diversity politics” and whatever “woke” is. It would’ve been open season on this movie. Now, it’s little more than a footnote in the careers of all involved, and you occasionally see it pop up on a Pluto TV channel or one of those syndicated TV networks.

Being the overly curious soul that I am, I wanted to watch The Honeymooners to see what exactly made this movie so allegedly awful that it was forgotten almost as soon as it was released. Alas, I find myself on an island with Roger Ebert, one of the few critics to give it a positive review during its initial release. This is a strangely endearing work of slapstick that manages to capture the spirit and personality of its characters while presenting a serviceable “slobs vs. snobs” storyline.

Much like the show, the film revolves around the exploits of a New York City bus driver named Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer) and his best friend, Ed Norton (Mike Epps). The men’s wives, Alice (Gabrielle Union) and Trixie (Regina Hall), are at the mercy of their husbands’ get-rich-quick schemes that never net them enough wealth to move out of their apartment complex. Quite the opposite in fact. Both men want the best for their spouses, but can’t help but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Alice and Tracy, who waitress at the same diner together, believe they’ve found their metaphorical lottery ticket in the form of an old lady who wants to sell her duplex at a shockingly affordable price. Their competition is a slithery real estate mogul (Eric Stoltz), who wants to demolish the whole block and make unaffordable condos. If the women can come up with the $20,000 down payment, the house is theirs. The Kramdens have $5,000 in the bank, and with the belief that Alice’s mother (Carol Woods) can match that, they only need $10,000.

However, Ralph has successfully drained the couple’s savings on one bad investment after another. Exhibit A: an antique train-car him and Ed purchased at auction. The two are so desperate that they’ll try anything to make money, whether it’s acting as blind men while panhandling at the park, or racing a greyhound dog they found in a dumpster. The latter just might work, especially with the help of a kooky John Leguizamo, who moonlights as a “dog trainer” for their “homeless dumpster dog.”

The Honeymooners was not a runaway cable success. The show merely lasted a year, with one season spanning 39 episodes. The show has become more famous for what it inspired. The comedic prowess of its leads, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, led to the creation of The Jackie Gleason Show, and the basis of the show is more-or-less what spawned The Flintstones.

The movie adaptation manages to work because it’s not beholden to Cedric and Epps emulating the dynamics of Gleason and Carney. The men are permitted enough wiggle-room to make the characters their own, which might offend you depending on your level of connection to the original show. I found the friendship between this iteration of Ralph and Ed to be funny, and the plights of Alice and Trixie to be somewhat dimensional as well. You can see the wearying pain in the eyes of Union’s Alice as well as the fleeting optimism in the body language and tone-of-voice in Hall’s Trixie. For as many antics the screenwriters throw into a 90-minute film, the cause-and-effect relationship between Ralph’s schemes and his rapidly disintegrating marriage make the stakes believable.

It also helps that Cedric the Entertainer knows how to play up the relatable beats of Ralph Kramden, one of the founding fathers of the oafish husband archetype in countless sitcoms. The era in which Hollywood sought the lineup of TV Land for inspiration also coincided with the time in which they were seemingly hellbent on making Cedric the Entertainer a movie star (Johnson Family Vacation was the start, Code Name: The Cleaner was the nail in the coffin).

Consider The Honeymooners the acceptable layover of that era and the modestly successful effort of what no less remains an otherwise ignominious time for a film industry, which shows just how appetizing the proverbial snake can find its own tail.

NOTE: As of this writing, The Honeymooners is available to stream on Pluto TV, free of charge, and Paramount+ with a subscription.

Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Eric Stoltz, John Leguizamo, and Carol Woods. Directed by: John Schultz.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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