No television sitcom ever presented the agony and frustration of working hard, scheming, and not getting ahead in America with the pathos of The Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason's enormous physique added a physical dimension to his character's stifling existence, and it always looked like his meaty hands would eventually tear down the tight, dingy walls of his apartment.
Where Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners protagonist was a blustering lion of the urban jungle, Cedric The Entertainer, who takes over the role in the middling 2005 feature-film adaptation, is just a stray pussycat, a nice guy who occasionally loses his temper, but then feels exceedingly guilty. Cedric seems to realize that he can't possibly hope to fill The Great One's Bob Lanier-sized shoes, so he instead aspires to get by on likeability and charm. The film follows Cedric's lead, shaving off many of the original series' bleaker, more acidic elements, and ensuring that a hug or a gushy speech is never more than a few moments away. The film's conspicuously television-sized plot revolves around the trademark get-rich-quick schemes of Cedric and Art Carney stand-in Mike Epps, the most important of which involves racing an abandoned dog to raise money for a duplex and/or fund another sketchy business plan. The oft-irritating John Leguizamo delivers a surprisingly relaxed, ingratiating supporting performance as a comically disreputable dog trainer whose primary preoccupation seems to be getting people to drop charges against him.
The big-screen Honeymooners actually feels much smaller in scope than its small-screen inspiration. Early on, it settles into a comfortable, relaxed sitcom rhythm that's mostly laugh-free, but also fairly painless, thanks to appealing performances such as Epps' sweetly goofy turn as a dimwitted but big-hearted dreamer. When compared to one of the greatest television shows of all time, The Honeymooners doesn't begin to measure up, but taken on its own modest terms, it's a pleasant enough mediocrity, helped along by a warmly affectionate take on blue-collar struggle. Between Cinderella Man and this lunchbox-toting time-waster, it's nice to see summer multiplex fillers boasting a genuine sense of class-consciousness, albeit in a highly sentimental, crowd-pleasing, watered-down form.