Movie review by Greg Carlson

Watching “Honey,” the latest in a long tradition of movies about wholesome, misunderstood kids who put on a talent show to save a community center and fulfill their dreams, one is initially struck by the central character’s inexhaustible energy and drive. Honey Daniels, played by perky Jessica Alba, divides her time between tending bar, teaching hip hop classes for youngsters, going on dance auditions for music videos, and working at a record shop. While the logistics of all these time commitments might otherwise cause one’s mind to boggle, the straightforward simplicity of “Honey” surely is in no position to tax anyone’s brain.

Like one of the frothy cocktails that Ms. Daniels serves at the dance club, “Honey” is an amalgamation of “Fame,” “Flashdance,” and “Strike Up the Band.” The movie also (inadvertently?) cribs large sections of the practically forgotten, but memorably titled, 1984 hip hop flick “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” right down to the finale. Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson have written a script that maintains its slick sheen for the duration of the movie, and “Honey” never aspires to confront any real dramatic conflict. Even hot-shot video director Michael Ellis’ (David Moscow, suitably smarmy) sleazy advances on Honey seem perfunctory and toothless.

The film also fails to develop any significant relationship between Honey and her nominal love interest, hard-working barber Chaz (Mekhi Phifer). Chaz seems to show up only when his protection or help is required, and his character remains frustratingly flat from beginning to end. Phifer is far too talented an actor to be left without meatier scenes to play, and it is a shame director Bille Woodruff did not recognize this. Instead, too much time is squandered on impossibly adorable moppet Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams), a little boy who takes a shine to Honey at the community center.

Like Honey, Raymond’s older brother Benny (Lil’ Romeo, surprisingly comfortable onscreen) is a talented dancer, but he has been recruited to sell drugs by a local dealer. The saintly Honey is desperate to keep Benny out of trouble, and dotes on him and Raymond whenever she is not pouring drinks or choreographing Ginuwine videos (the movie’s best unintentionally funny line is Honey comforting Raymond with an offer for a frozen treat: “I’m fiendin’ for a milkshake”). The film manufactures a crisis of conscience for Benny, but his honorable character is never really in doubt.

“Honey” subscribes to the Horatio Alger-like fantasy that a little talent and a lot of elbow grease can take anyone from just another face in the crowd to the champagne toasts of celebrities in private VIP rooms. Sure, Woodruff offers the audience a whiff of the idea that the cutthroat, fast-paced entertainment industry might cause one to lose a grip on personal values and ethics once the fat paychecks start rolling in, but as a veteran music video director himself, he is not going to bite the hand that feeds him. In addition to Ginuwine, several hip hop artists appear as themselves, including Jadakiss and Missy Elliott. Elliott is nearly as irrepressible on film as she is on her blazing records, and she provides plenty of humor in relation to her scant screen time.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 12/8/03.

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