The edible variety of honey might have a particularly long shelf life, but that’s not likely to be the case with this movie of the same name, an earnest but woefully weak dance flick, the sort of feel-good musical fantasy that quickly curdles on the screen. “Honey” provides the first feature lead for Jessica Alba, who starred in James Cameron’s “Dark Angel” for two seasons on television and is physically quite a stunning young woman. But if her career climbs, it won’t retain a prominent position on her resume. The picture tries to be an uplifting fable of both individual accomplishment and community rebirth, a sort of combination of “Flashdance” and “Fame.” But in the end it seems more reminiscent of such duds as “Coyote Ugly” and “Glitter.” In the end, the silliness of the picture becomes crushing and its sweetness level goes off the charts.
Alba plays Honey Daniels, a bartender and club dancer whose parents run a community center in a rough New York neighborhood but who want her to choose a safe, middle-class career (they keep encouraging her to study ballet!). She, however, has ambitions to become a choreographer, and meanwhile teaches hip-hop classes at the center. She gets her big break when she catches the eye of an important music director (David Moscow) who becomes her ticket to fame among the big-name talent whose videos he helms; it goes without saying, though, that he’ll come to expect more from her than she’s willing to give–a fact that will threaten her success. On the more personal side, she has to balance her new-found celebrity with maintaining her relationship with her predictably colorful best pal Gina (Joy Bryant), while beginning a romance with Chaz (Mekhi Phifer), an affable barber. And as if all this weren’t enough, she takes a protective attitude toward two lovable kid brothers–Benny (Lil’ Romeo) and Raymond (Zachary Isaiah Williams), who have a difficult home life but, she thinks, can be rescued from a life of crime and pain through terpsichore. To help them, and other neighborhood youngsters, Honey puts her choreographic profits on the line to build a new community center when the old one falls apart. In good traditional style, the resolution comes down to the old “let’s put on a show to raise money” plot ploy. Judy and Mickey, however, would feel very much out of place in the routines spotlighted in it.
Alba is an attractive presence, but she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable here, as though not yet quite up to the burden of carrying a picture on her own; and while some of the dance sequences have a good deal of energy, they’re never especially imaginative, in terms of either the staging or the editing. But what dooms “Honey” is its combination of gritty locale and white-bread niceness. The title character is ludicrously good-natured, given her surroundings; it’s as if somebody from Mayberry had wandered into Hell’s Kitchen. Honey’s ascent in the music business is even harder to swallow, even on a fantasy level. The routines she creates are remarkably cheesy, and the notion that big-name stars would fall over themselves to secure her services is simply absurd. And Alba doesn’t get a great deal of help from elsewhere. Bille Woodruff’s direction is sluggish and slack, and apart from Lil’ Romeo, whose shtick should please his fans, nobody else makes much of an impression. Phifer is pretty much a cipher, if you’ll pardon the expression; Bryant is supposed to be hilarious but come across as simply irritating; and looking at Moscow today, it’s hard to believe that he was once the cute kid who grew up to be Tom Hanks in “Big.” Technically the movie gets by.
So while “Honey” is about a woman who’s a great dancer, as a movie it’s incredibly klutzy. It certainly deserves no curtain calls, though you’ll be overjoyed when the curtain does come down on it.