Bille Woodruff's Honey, an assortment of remakes set in the contemporary hip-hop world, is a surprisingly entertaining teen drama--despite its laughable dialogue.
Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) is a ballet dancer who dreams of making it big in the hip-hop world, but until then, she works two jobs to make ends meet, teaching hip-hop classes at a local youth center by day and bartending at a trendy club by night. Her ''smooth moves'' eventually catch the eye of influential video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow), who casts her in his next project, a Judakiss video. Before long, the whole town is abuzz about Honey Daniels, and fab artists such as Ginuwine and Missy Elliott (playing themselves) want to work with the 22-year-old rising star. Honey is as happy as a bear with his paw in the honey pot--especially when the checks start coming in. Because she's sweet to the bone, Honey uses the money to make a down payment on a dance studio where the neighborhood kids--including her friend Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams), an 8-year-old boy with a troubled home life--can hang out after school. But success comes with a price Honey isn't ready to pay: Michael expects her to put out, and when she refuses, he blackballs her. No money means no studio, but Honey can't bear to break the hearts of those inner city kids. With the help of her supportive boyfriend Chaz (Mekhi Phifer), she figures out just what to do.
Alba, whose popularity skyrocketed two years ago when she appeared on James Cameron's now defunct sci-fi series Dark Angel, takes her first leading role as Honey. But while there's no doubt that Alba can act (her performance in Dark Angel earned her a Golden Globe nomination in 2000), the actress isn't exactly working with striking material here. Her character smiles excessively throughout the film and murmurs campy, cheese-ball lines like, ''I like yo' flava,'' with requisite head toss and hand gesture. But despite the really bad dialogue, Alba still manages to churn out a surprisingly likable character, one with strong values and morals. As her love interest Chaz, film and TV thesp Phifer (8 Mile, ER) is a down-to-earth, all-round good guy with a smile guaranteed to light up any room, and with a nice practical job as the owner of a neighborhood barbershop, he injects just the right amount of level-headedness into the over-the-top hip-hop world of the movie. His relationship with Honey is unexpectedly charming, and even though the script doesn't call for them to do anything more than kiss briefly, Phifer and Alba have undeniable onscreen chemistry. Equally impressive is the young Williams, who channels the best Little Orphan Annie ever into his pint-sized character Raymond. Honorable mention also goes out to rapper-turned-actor Lil' Romeo (the son of rap mogul Master P) for his portrayal of Raymond's older brother Benny. Turns out he can rap, dance and act, thanks in part to his signature 'Tude.
Honey is music video director Bille Woodruff's first feature, and although this rags-to-riches-to-reality tale is certainly not B movie bad, it does suffer from some unintentionally laughable moments. There are, for example, some really distracting close-ups, including a handful of Alba with a forced, blissful smile plastered on her face. Overall, though, Woodruff's direction is slick, vibrant and fast-paced. The music video sets where Honey and Michael work have an authentic feel, or at least resemble the ones featured on MTV's Making the Video. Honey's corniness--aside from its character's name and the film's title--stems instead from Woodruff's writers, Alonzo Browns and Kim Watson, who tried to make a soufflé of Saturday Night Fever, Fame and Flashdance, with a little A Star Is Born--for flava--but the dish falls flat. The story is engaging, but the message--about how easily poor, inner city kids can be lured into a life of crime--is a little too heavy handed. The subplot, involving a drug dealer who threatens Honey's involvement with Raymond, should either have been developed more or dropped altogether. What the film does have going for it, however, are some really likeable and sincere characters and an excellent soundtrack to go along with some great dance routines.
Despite its clichéd premise and even cheesier dialogue, this sugary teen drama is actually quite endearing.