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'Honeymooners' Is No Classic

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 10, 2005

WHEN ANNOYED at his wife, bus driver Ralph Kramden had the same choice words for her: "To the moon, Alice!" Sometimes he got even more demonstrative, yelling, "One of these days, Alice. Bang! Zoom! To the moon!" And he'd wheel his meaty arm as if already dispatching her out of orbit.

That was in "The Honeymooners," one of television's greatest situation comedies. Starring the late, great Jackie Gleason, the 1950s series was -- and remains -- one of the finest, funniest depictions of working-class life on the small screen.

A brief primer: Ralph Kramden (Gleason) was a bus driver in New York City who was forever dreaming up crazy get-rich schemes behind the back of his disapproving wife, Alice (Audrey Meadows). He always involved his upstairs neighbor and pal, Ed Norton (Art Carney), an eccentric spirit whose utter lack of genius was somehow celestial. The plan always failed because of Ralph's incompetence, arrogance and hubris. And Ed's contributions were to annoy and eternally confound Ralph. Ultimately, Ralph had to confess and acknowledge his failures to Alice and realize that, above all else, he was crazy in love with her.

But those are the bare-bone essentials. What really counted was the chemistry between Gleason and Carney, one of comedy's most inspired duos. It was a classic. Sacrosanct. You don't remake that. You can't remake that. You can only watch it eternally in syndication or on DVD and admire. Which is precisely why it has been remade.

This is my way of avoiding spending too much time on the new movie referred to as "The Honeymooners," in which Cedric the Entertainer (does one call him "Entertainer" on second reference?) plays Kramden as nothing more than a tubby schemer who drives a bus and who is married, beyond logic, to Gabrielle Union (she's Alice.) As Ed, Mike Epps's idea of comic grace is to walk through the movie with a fixed grin and perform pratfalls that wouldn't get a "C" grade in clown school. ("The best thing about this movie?" a colleague whispered to me at a preview of this film. "89 minutes.")

The less said about the story, in which Ralph attempts several harebrained schemes (entering a dog in a greyhound race, buying an old-time trolley), the better. Suffice it to say, there is no comedy, no chemistry, no nothing in this movie. So, on behalf of Gleason, Carney and their wonderful co-stars Meadows and Joyce Randolph (who played Ed's wife, Trixie), I would like to ask director John Schultz, the five screenwriters who hacked their way through the screenplay, and everyone associated with this project to strap themselves in for a special trip. You know the destination I'm talking about. That big yellow thing that floats in the sky at night? The one with all the lunar craters? There's plenty of space up there for a colony of mediocre filmmakers. That's right, folks. To the moon. Bang! Zoom!

THE HONEYMOONERS (PG-13, 89 minutes) -- Contains crude humor and even less comedy than "Hamlet." Area theaters.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company