Honey


Robin Clifford 
Honey
Laura Clifford 

Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) has worked all of her life perfecting her dance moves and is ready to show the world. By day, she teaches hip-hop dance in a local kids’ center, but at night she hits the dance floor and shows her stuff. When she is approached to choreograph the dance numbers for a slew of the hottest rappers, she thinks that her dreams have come true in “Honey.”

Robin:
Music vid director Billie Woodruff and TV’s Jessica Alba (“Dark Angel”) both make their feature film debuts with “Honey,” a nice-hearted little film that is better than it has a right to be. The screenplay, by Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson, is a rife-with-clichés, squeaky-clean, rags-to-riches, “let’s put on a show” tale that is trite and predictable. But, the film does have heart and star Alba is pretty and personable in the title role. She doesn’t quite have the look of a pro dancer but she does show the skill to take on the role and make you suspend disbelief. Part of the reason for this is the dance numbers – and there are many – don’t blow everything out of proportion. The music vid numbers look like something straight from MTV (though a less sexually explicit) while the rest of the dance routines looks a little too polished, but energetic, well done and entertaining.

Woodruff uses his music video background with the plethora of dance routines liberally sprinkled throughout the film. He strings them together with the routine screenplay that has Honey teaching hip-hop dance at the local community center run by her mother (Lynette McKee) and father (Anthony Sherwood). They disapprove of Honey’s choice of profession but still support her as she goes from one audition to the next. Her luck changes when a music vid producer, Michel Ellis (David Moscow), spots her on the dance floor of club where she moonlights as a bartender and offers her a job hoofing in one of his videos. Very soon, she displays her choreographic talents and lands a job staging her own dance number for the camera. She becomes a hot commodity among such rap notables as Missy Elliot, Jadakiss & Sheek, Ginuwine and Tweet, all vying for her dance crafting abilities.

Of course, the rags to riches portion of the story only takes about, say, five minutes so there has to be something else to hang the film on and there is plenty in “Honey.” There is the too-little-screen time between Honey and her honest, hardworking barbershop owner, Chaz (Mekhi Phifer). The actor always has an amiable presence and he instills it into Chaz with sensitivity and humor. There is nice chemistry between Honey and Chaz. Honey also has to help and save Benny (Lil’ Romeo) from a life of street crime by showing him the value of dancing. She does this with the assistance of Benny’s little brother, Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams), a wild haired little boy who is both intelligent and wise. She has to deal with having her hopes raised, then dashed, by Michael when he comes on too strong at a party, causing her to lose the job that should finance her next crisis.

When her parents’ community center is closed for being unsafe, Honey has the great idea to fix up an abandoned warehouse and start a dance school. She puts down all the money she has earned as a deposit on the property but things are jeopardized when she loses her job. But, hey, this is a fairytale after all and it seems fitting when Honey says something like: “We can make it all better if we just join together and put on a show!” I couldn’t believe that the filmmakers dragged out this old chestnut but, in a silly way, it works. Of course, the $20-a-head benefit show, put on by all the dancing street kids and gangstas, lasts all of five-minutes (screen time) and is, of course, a tremendous hit. The dance school is saved and Missy Elliot will only make her next music video if Honey is the choreographer. In this movie, they don’t just live happily ever after - they live happily all of the time.

The cast, led by Alba, is likable across the board and, with the highly energized dancing and song (neither of which is my preference but this one ain’t aimed at me), help to make “Honey” an entertaining piece of musical fluff fantasy. One thing I note, though, is that, with the exception of the local drug lord, the only bad guy in this thing is a white guy.

Techs are up there with the best of MTV, with John R. Leonetti’s camera spending much of the film’s runtime on Alba and the dance numbers. This is definitely a showcase for the young actress, Alba, and the concentration is on her.

“Honey” is aimed directly at the teen crowd and offers enough handsome characters, hip-hop songs and energetic dancing to keep the demographic happy. The PG-13 rating (due to drug content and some benign sexual references) will allow the youngest teenagers access to holiday movie entertainment that is right down their alley. I can’t think of another film, aside from straight adult drama, that so nicely targets its audience with its good nature, positive messages and moral content. And, all drug-underworld gang members should be as non-sinister, cute and personable as Lil Romeo. If only. I give it a C+.

Laura:
Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba, TV's "Dark Angel") wants nothing more than to be a professional hip hop dancer, but once her dream is realized, she finds that unless she can work with the street kids she's been teaching at an urban community center, her dream is hollow.  When her upwards trajectory takes a sudden downward turn, Honey goes back to the streets where fame finds her again in "Honey."

Writers Alonzo Brown, Kim Watson and Marc Platt strip mine films from "Saturday Night Fever" to "Flashdance" and serve up a cliche-ridden hip hop flick that's video-making subplot is an obvious pitch to the MTV crowd.  Luckily, video director Bille Woodruff has imbued his feature debut with enough heart and genuinely likable actors to make "Honey" a pleasant enough entertainment.

Honey's mom (Lonette McKee, "He Got Game"), who runs the community center where Honey volunteers her time, wishes her 22 year old daughter would expand her horizons, but Honey's heart is in hip hop.  Honey works as a bartender at a club where she can get free drinks and dance time with her best friend Gina (Joy Bryant, "Antwone Fisher").  She's unlucky at auditions, but her moves on the dance floor get her noticed by video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow, "Just Married") and soon she's choreographing videos for the likes of Jadakiss and Tweet. Honey's also determined to keep her street kids, especially the talented Bennie (Lil' Romeo) and his little brother Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams, TV's "Romeo!"), away from the drug dealers trying to enlist them, but after she's convinced Ellis to use them in a shoot for Ginuwine, Ellis blackballs her career for rebuffing his personal advances.  Honey turns back to the streets, staging a hip hop benefit in order to buy a dance studio for the community.

Jessica Alba is a beautiful girl with genuine charisma who keeps Honey's goodie two-shoes nature charming rather than saccharine.  Alba trained for the dancing and it shows - her moves are fluid and professional and full of personality.  Another huge plus is an underutilized Mekhi Phifer ("8 Mile") as the basketball playing barbershop owner Chaz who falls for and supports Honey.  It's a pairing to root for.  Rapper Lil' Romeo, in his film debut, is good as the cocky kid ('We be teachin' you, lady') torn between the inevitability of the tenements and Honey's hopeful alternative.  Williams is adorable as the still naive Rodney - his sparring with Phifer as they both flirt with Honey in Chaz's barbershop is the film's best scene.  Also terrific is Joy Bryant, exhibiting a more street wise persona and great comic ability in her "Fisher" followup.  Moscow keeps his villainous side under wraps without making its revelation a complete U-turn.  Missy Elliott, as herself, adds some last minute punch, giving Honey's rival, Katrina (Laurie Ann Gibson), her comedic comeuppance.

"Honey's" dance numbers are visually varied, its soundtrack full of selections from its cameo players and others.  It's a piece of genre fluff, but it goes down easy.

C+

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