[Screen It]

"HONEY"
(2003) (Jessica Alba, Mekhi Phifer) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A young dancer must overcome various obstacles as she tries to make it in the music video business and raise enough money to open a new dance center for the local kids.
PLOT:
Honey Daniels (JESSICA ALBA) is an ambitious and talented 22-year-old dancer who teaches hip-hop dance lessons to the local youth in a New York City center run by her mother, Darlene (LONETTE McKEE). She also works in a record store with her best friend, Gina (JOY BRYANT), who keeps pushing Honey to pursue her dream of appearing as a backup dancer in music videos.

She gets her break when music video director Michael Ellis (DAVID MOSCOW) sees a videotape of her doing her thing in a local club where she competes with her rival, Katrina (LAURIE ANN GIBSON). He then hires Honey not only to dance in the videos of some prominent hip-hop artists, but also to start choreographing the entire numbers.

Things seem to be going great for Honey. She's suddenly making a lot of money, a local barbershop owner, Chaz (MEKHI PHIFER), is sweet on her, and she's befriended a young kid, Raymond (ZACHARY ISAIAH WILLIAMS), while trying to get his older brother, Benny (LIL' ROMEO), away from the drug business run by local hood B.B. (WES MAESTRO WILLIAMS).

Yet, when various complications threaten to derail her career and her dream of opening a new dance center to keep the kids off the streets, Honey must do what she can to accomplish her goals.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In the world of entertainment, there's an obvious caste system of sorts that's always in play. The big stars get all of the fame, fortune and biggest trailers, while the benefits of the second and third tier players are proportionally pared down.

Then there are the extras - be they actors, dancers or backup singers - who may be working but are otherwise on the bottom of food chain. While the headliners get all of the publicity, surely the supporting performers - and those who aspire to get to just that level - have interesting lives and stories to tell.

Apparently, writers Alonzo Brown & Kim Watson (making their collective debut) and director Bille Woodruff (also making his feature debut) think so as they've concocted the tale of an aspiring background music video dancer in "Honey." Following the likes of "Flashdance" and yes, even "Glitter," in telling the tale of a young woman overcoming various obstacles while pursuing her dream, the film gets by for a while on sheer charm.

Unfortunately, and despite the alluring big screen debut of Jessica Alba (TV's "Dark Angel"), and a cute kid with a wild head of hair, the film fall prey to its own contrived, clichéd and predictable design and devices.

Basically a hip-hop version of that 1983 Jennifer Beals flick with a dance school and record store stint replacing the welder vocation, the film focuses on the title character as she tries to break into the music video biz. Oh, and she's also trying to help the local kids stay on the straight and narrow by raising enough money to buy a building for a new dance studio.

Despite good intentions, it's all somewhat silly in both concept and execution, but the film works for a while due to that charm and a winning spirit. Once one realizes what sort of film it's going to be, it's a bit easier to accept - to a certain extent - the sort of material that's naturally going to follow.

Alas, the melodrama is applied too thickly - even for an effort like this - quickly snuffing out that charm and slightly infectious demeanor. It's understood that complications need to be added to create drama, but the material that the filmmakers repeatedly throw out is increasingly contrived, predictable and ultimately somewhat dreadful.

One ludicrous development after another is dropped into the protagonist's path, with each adding to her and our misery. For a while, it's somewhat tolerable. Yet, when an included hip-hop song plays a piano score sampling from a popular TV soap opera, you immediately know you're in for a rough ride. Such material could have been clever or funny, but it simply isn't. Nor is there much of a realistic look at the world of music videos and/or those who appear in or make them.

That said, Alba delivers a moderately winning performance, no doubt helped by a radiant look, bubbly personality and a certain intangible cinematic magnetism. Accordingly, you can't help but feel bad that the script lets her down.

Lil' Romeo (making his debut) and Zachary Isaiah Williams (various TV shows) play the young brothers who enter her character's life - the former being the troubled and streetwise kid on the brink of personal disaster and the latter his cute as a button younger sibling.

On the adult side, most of the performers play standard-issue characters that are too obviously designed as cogs in the machine. Joy Bryant ("Antwone Fisher," "Showtime") inhabits the best friend role and alternates between being supportive and briefly perturbed by her friend's lack of time for her.

Mekhi Phifer ("8 Mile," "Paid in Full") plays the former bad youth turned wise businessman and eventual love interest, while David Moscow ("Just Married," "Riding in Cars With Boys") embodies the good-guy video director who's so obviously going to turn bad that you'd expect to see him devilishly twirling his mustache if he only had one.

With one such melodramatic development after another, the film doesn't have a chance of succeeding, particularly when it's so predictable that even those not watching it but just in the general vicinity will be able to see what's coming long before any of it arrives.

All of which is too bad since the film does work to a degree for a short while. Although that initially makes it appear earmarked for the guilty pleasure bin, it falls apart so completely and loses so much of its charm that it doesn't even work on that level. "Honey" may start off tasting sweet, but it ultimately leaves only a sour aftertaste. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed December 2, 2003 / Posted December 5, 2003


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