The summer of the TV remake is upon us, and few of this season's offerings seem more out-of-place than this big-budget modernization of Jackie Gleason's battle-of-the-sexes, working-class sitcom. So it comes as a surprise that the film, featuring Cedric the Entertainer in the Gleason role, is actually pleasant, inspired and full of heart. If it had just a few more laughs, it might even be worth recommending.
The basic outline of the show remains intact, even if the races have changed: Cedric plays Ralph Kramden, an affable bus driver from Brooklyn whose get-rich schemes always blow up in his face, much to the consternation of his level-headed wife Alice (the forever-underrated Gabrielle Union). Aiding and abetting our hero is his hapless best friend, sewer inspector Ed Norton (Mike Epps), whose wife Trixie (Regina Hall) waits tables with Alice at the local diner.
The ladies are determined to raise money for a down payment on an elderly neighbor's quaint duplex, before a sleazy developer (Eric Stoltz) can tear it down. Unbeknownst to them, their husbands are busy squandering both couples' savings on a stray mutt they hope to enter in the dog races with the help of a shady "trainer" named Dodge (John Leguizamo, in a funny supporting turn).
Thankfully absent are the original series' wife-beating jokes: Fans of the sitcom might be surprised to find the famous line "To the moon, Alice!" used as a term of endearment instead of a domestic-abuse threat. If anything, Alice seems too smart and beautiful in this version to be stuck with someone as slovenly and devious as Ralph. Also, some of the slapstick simply doesn't work, and the cartoonish score doesn't help. But the performers' efforts smooth over the film's less-funny stretches; never does it feel cynical or phoned-in, which is more than you can say for most summer comedies. The Honeymooners may not be worth the price of a movie ticket, but it'll make a decent time-killer when it shows up on cable which, when you think about it, is kind of fitting for a sitcom remake.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.