This is what happens when you produce a vanity project for someone who hasn't quite graduated to B-movie star yet. Nothing against Jessica Alba; she's cute, she can dance okay, and she was pretty good on that FOX sci-fi show a few years ago. (No, not MANTIS. Or Strange Luck. Or VR-5. Or Millennium. Or even Tru Calling.) But her performance in Honey reminded me of a singer trying to act -- and Alba, as far as I know, isn't a singer.
She plays Honey Daniels, a New York girl trying to make it as a dancer. She's got a good heart, of course; she teaches hip-hop dancing at a community center when she's not working two jobs to pay the rent. In fact, Honey Daniels must be a pretty great teacher, since almost all of her students seem significantly more talented than she is. The movie wisely backs away from 90 minutes of Alba busting uncomplicated moves, and focuses on her burgeoning career as a music-video choreographer. And her attempts to save the community center. And her relationship with a nice local boy (Mekhi Phifer, too good for this). And her relationship with the sleazy music-video director (David Moscow) who provides the big break. And her ability to communicate with the dead, go back in time and solve murders. No, wait, that last one really is Tru Calling.
The problem with this well-intentioned, (very) mildly diverting silliness is that Honey Daniels is a weak center for the movie to revolve around. Honey compliments others on their flava, but she seems mostly flava-free: she likes dancing, she likes other people's dancing, she likes kids, she's a stand-up gal. Her only character flaws are unacknowledged by the screenplay; she pilfers shamelessly from African-American culture in her dance moves, and she displays a vague naïvete about the kids she teaches (she's shocked -- shocked! -- that one kid doesn't have someone to pick him up after a haircut).
I can't really blame her, since the other characters in the movie disappear and reappear as needed for their scenes with Honey. These characters include her love interest, her parents, her nemesis, and her best friend. The best friend in particular seems to shadow Honey at key moments, at work and at her apartment, is barely introduced to the other characters, and is absent for long stretches. For awhile I considered that she might be figment of Honey's imagination, but it's just not that type of movie.
It is the type of movie, however, where Lil' Romeo plays a thug-to-be redeemed by Honey's love of dance. It also ends with a big (but not particularly unique) charity dance number, and features a Missy Elliott cameo that may well have been inserted into the film months after its completion. These aspects of Honey hint at the unintentional comedy that could have been -- or the intentional, even, if they had actually cast Kevin McDonald in the director role, rather than lookalike Moscow. But the movie lacks key elements, such as dance-offs, gratuitous sex, and true displays of ego. Alba, for all of her blandness, seems nice enough. The whole movie is nice enough -- too nice, probably, to bother with. Then again, it does contain the invaluable sight of Lil' Romeo being hauled away in a police car.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th December 2003
Box Office USA: $30.2M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Marc Platt Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 91
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Billie Woodruff
Producer: Andre Harrell, Marc E. Platt
Starring: Jessica Alba as Honey Daniels, Mekhi Phifer as Chaz, Joy Bryant as Gina, Lil Romeo as Benny, David Moscow as Michael Ellis, Zachary Isaiah Williams as Raymond, Missy Elliott as Herself, Anthony Sherwood as Mr. Daniels, Lonette McKee as Mrs. Daniels, Maestro as B.B., Judi Embden as Mrs. Strom, Laurieann Gibson as Katrina, Alison Sealy-Smith as Marisol, Scott Neil as Lenny, Sarah Francis as Letitia, Jull Weber as Joey, Kevin Duhaney as Otis, Brandi Ward as Choreographer, Fonzworth Bentley as Barber, Tracy Dawson as Assistant Director