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‘Honeymooners’ feels like an extended skit

A remake of the 1950s sitcom with an African American cast

“To the moon, Alice!” said the threatening Ralph Cramden (Jackie Gleason) to his long-suffering wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) in the 1950s CBS sitcom, “The Honeymooners.”

“I’m going to take you to the moon, Alice,” says a more romantic Ralph Cramden (now played by Cedric the Entertainer) to his soon-to-be wife (Gabrielle Union) in the new feature-length wide-screen version of “The Honeymooners.”

What a difference political correctness makes. The blatant misogyny of the original series has been removed for the movie, yet nothing equally edgy has taken its place. The relationship between these “honeymooners” becomes so bland and directionless that Gleason must be rotating in his grave.

It’s not that the new cast doesn’t try. Although Ralph’s marriage no longer has much juice, Cedric gets quite a few laughs out of playing Ralph as New York City’s least attentive bus driver. He thinks nothing of driving without his hands touching the steering wheel, he stops the bus in midtown traffic to argue with Alice, and he otherwise behaves toward his bus and its passengers as if public transportation were an alien concept.

It’s also fun to see Ralph hook up with his neighbor and longtime pal, Ed Norton (Mike Epps), on a series of appalling get-rich-quick schemes. Alice wants to put a down payment on a home, so does Ed’s wife Trixie (Regina Hall), and the boys are forced to find a way to come up with $20,000.

Ralph takes on double shifts at work, he and Ed try to collect on petty loans they’ve made over the years, they pick up a few pennies by showing off their dance moves, and they buy a railroad car which they plan to turn into a tourist attraction. When they take up dog-racing, and hire a dicey trainer named Dodge (John Leguizamo), they think they’ve found their gold mine.

This episode clicks largely because of Leguizamo, who plays Dodge as a crook and pickpocket who puts more energy into denying his criminal nature than he does into pulling off his scams. Too bad Eric Stoltz is wasted as a scheming bad guy and Carol Woods is given a one-note role as Alice’s mother. There’s also not enough for Hall or Union to do, though Union consistently suggests that Alice may be the smartest character in the picture.

While the original “Honeymooners” made television stars of Gleason, Meadows and Art Carney (as Ed Norton), the movie isn’t likely to do much for the careers of anyone aside from Leguizamo, who is already well-established. The television show started as a sketch on Gleason’s variety show, and the new “Honeymooners” often feels like an extended skit.

Four writers get official screen credit: Danny Jacobson (from television’s “Roseanne”), Don Rhymer (“Big Momma’s House”) and the team of David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, who co-wrote several of Eddie Murphy’s blockbusters (“Coming to America,” “The Nutty Professor”). The director, John Schultz (“Like Mike”), can't hide the seams, but he makes their contributions seem relatively painless.