Publicists for Erik Estrada have taken pains to point out that the plot of Estrada's NBC movie "Honeyboy," tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 4, "uncannily parallels" the "CHiPs" star's own life. Since Estrada's production company made the film, those parallels would seem something less than uncanny -- premeditated would be more like it.
Unfortunately, whatever veracity might have come out of such an arrangement has been lost in a torrent of cliche's from other movies, plays and TV shows; the writer borrowed from everything but the Yellow Pages in assembling his tale of a tough kid from the New York barrio who is turned into a middleweight boxing champ and has a devil of a time dealing with his own publicity.
Sources for this derivative octopus include "Rockys" I and III, "Golden Boy," "A Star Is Born" and, for a surprise fade-out, the kicker from "All About Eve" as well. But maybe having nothing ring true is perfection of a kind, because there is something dreadfully entertaining about the film. Perhaps it's the way Estrada clenches his whole face into a fist for his big confrontation scenes, or the way that walking icicle Morgan Fairchild trickles noncommittally amongst the muscled.
Fairchild, who does far less disrobing in the film than Estrada does, plays the crafty public relations woman who dubs the young Golden Gloves champ "Honeyboy" and sets about creating an "image" for him. Imagine writer-director John Berry thinking that conflicts over press releases constitute wrenching high drama.
The dialogue breaks out in purple at every opportunity, and a familiar shade of purple it is. Honeyboy's mother (Yvonne Wilder) scowls, "Yer just like yer father was -- yer nothin'!" Faithful old manager Nate (James McEachin) reminds the increasingly bigheaded Honeyboy, "I picked you up off the streets, remember?" and later hears his little Honeyboy say, "This is our shot at the big time, huh, Nate?" A promoter gushes, "This kid's money in the bank," Honeyboy accosts his long-lost father (Hector Elizondo, his head bowed like a wet dog's) with, "Hey, I needed you once and where were you then, huh?," and, after Nate takes a well-deserved hike, Honeyboy bellows Sammy-Glickishly, "I don't need anybody, understand? I don't need nobody! Nobody!"
Whoa there, Honeyboy. Since the character is never shown to be much more than a conniving lout in the first place, an account of his corruption by the cruel world proves painfully pointless. Apparently we are supposed to find attractiveness his redeeming quality; so many references are made to Estrada's good looks that you'd think the actor would have been a trifle embarrassed. But then, given all those uncanny parallels to his real life, one might reasonably accept one character's assessment of Honeyboy as a fairly accurate thumbnail sketch of Estrada: "a cocky young fella, arrogant, too, with a lofty opinion of himself."
Naturally, the film climaxes in a furious battle with a boastful black champion, as in the "Rocky" films. This one is called Tiger Maddox (Jem Echollas), and Honeyboy taunts him in an early scene: "I'm gon' getchoo, Tiger, I'm gonna getchoo one day." The big fight includes some of the most hilariously unconvincing faked boxing ever put on film, and naturally director Berry goes slo-mo at the long overdue turning point. "Honeyboy" is to TV movies what those Lynda Carter and Cheryl Ladd specials are to musical-variety--the embarrassing result of a foolish network's silly contractual concession to an overreaching star whose agent knows how to wheedle.