Genial but much too laid-back, The Honeymooners updates the 1950s television series to contemporary New York (actually Dublin, Ireland, substituting for New York). It took four credited screenwriters and seven producers to figure out that the series didn't need much work, because they have duplicated almost all of its individual elements. Unfortunately, they left out the undisciplined slapstick and hints of melancholy that made the show an audience favorite.
As played by Cedric the Entertainer, Ralph Kramden is still a dreamer and optimist fueled more by his unshakable confidence than by the reality of his life as a bus driver. His long-suffering wife Alice (Gabrielle Union) has lived with Ralph's harebrained schemes for years, but her dead-end job and apartment by an elevated train have worn her down. Upstairs neighbors Ed Norton (Mike Epps) and his wife Trixie (Regina Hall) defer to the Kramdens, even when they should know better.
When Alice and Trixie learn that a neighbor is willing to sell her duplex to them, they scramble to come up with a down payment before real-estate developer William Davis (Eric Stoltz) buys her out. But Ralph has invested all of their money in a Pullman rail car buried deep within the sewer system. He needs more than the down payment just to get the car up to the surface.
Ralph's increasingly desperate attempts to recover his money make up the bulk of the story. How he and Ed end up entering an adopted greyhound in a stakes match at a New Jersey dog track provokes more chuckles than belly laughs, but the journey is generally painless.
Jackie Gleason brought real anger to his portrayal of Kramden, and his mounting exasperation at how the world ganged up against him gave the TV "Honeymooners" an undercurrent of psychosis that the film doesn't try to match. Physically, Cedric the Entertainer inhabits Kramden's role comfortably, but there's no rage or bite in his acting. In a part originated by Art Carney, Epps is an amiable, shambling presence with not enough good lines. It's up to John Leguizamo to inject some life into The Honeymooners. Easily stealing the film as a dog trainer, mail-order-bride procurer, forger, tailor and pickpocket named Dodge, he juices up the film with lines like, "Luckily for me I'm nearsighted, so I can date just about everybody."
All ends well for Kramden and his friends, something the TV series never would have permitted. Still, filmgoers could do worse in this summer of big-budget reruns.