'Honey': You've Seen This Dance Before
Friday, December 5, 2003
"Five, six, seven, eight!"
That's a litany heard often in "Honey," in an attempt to inject some kind of energy and realism into what amounts to a derivative star-and-soundtrack vehicle assembled from the spare parts of "Fame," "Flashdance" and "Saturday Night Fever."
Instead, it evokes a warmed-over Fox TV special, featuring one of that network's breakout actresses, Jessica Alba ("Dark Angel"). Here she plays the title character, Honey Daniels, a classically trained dancer who yearns for her big break performing in a music video while she toils behind a Bronx record store counter by day and a bar by night. (All that's missing is a welding job.) Because neither of those venues lends itself to someone breaking into a super-jiggy dance number, director Bille Woodruff also has her teach hip-hop at her mom's community center, proving in one fell swoop that Honey has killer abs, a peripatetic booty and a heart of gold.
This is the kind of role that would have been perfect for Jennifer Lopez in her early days, and although Alba makes an appealingly tough and attractive heroine (her lips could give Angelina Jolie's a run for their gloss), her lack of dance experience shows. Woodruff, a music video director making his feature debut, does as good a job as he can to mask that fact, cutting fast and shooting close to preclude too many full-body shots. But what's the point of making a song-and-dance film if not to show people moving? (What production numbers there are admittedly sparkle, although by the climactic let's-put-on-a-show moment, their jutting, angular moves and sinuous gyrations have all blurred into one big aerobics-slash-strip number.)
The point, it seems, is to sell Ms. Alba as a bona fide movie star (the jury is still out on that one, although the camera clearly loves her) and to move some units of the soundtrack, whose featured artists include Ginuwine, Jadakiss & Sheek, Tweet and Missy Elliott. The last shows up for the film's most incandescent cameo moments, and she joins a cast of superior supporting players. Lil' Romeo and Zachary Isaiah Williams are authentic and adorable as two kids from the 'hood whom Honey befriends; Joy Bryant steals nearly every one of her scenes in the thankless role of the wisecracking best friend; and the always terrific Mekhi Phifer brings his characteristic focus and warmth to his performance as Honey's love interest.
In a fair world, Phifer would be touted as the next big thing in movies, but he doesn't have Fox or MTV or WB or UPN behind him. You're nothing in Hollywood these days, it seems, unless you bring a pre-sold TV audience to the table. That might mean that the studios are guaranteed a meal ticket, but audiences are in danger of being left with scraps.