Directed by John Schultz. Starring Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Eric Stoltz, John Leguizamo, Carol Woods. (2005, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., June 10, 2005
"I thought it would be funnier," murmured another filmgoer at the close of this celluloid update of Jackie Gleason’s 1950s blue-collar comedy chestnut. And that, I can only assume, is one bravely optimistic man. Four screenwriters, including veteran TV producer Danny Jacobson, have cobbled together a script so rickety that it could itself pass as one of Ralph Kramden’s harebrained get-rich schemes. Schultz’s direction is plodding, with the artistic flair of spackle, and he seems to have instructed his cast to mimic their small-screen forebears down to the last gesture; more’s the pity, because a more radical reworking of the show’s subject matter (the myth of class mobility and the strain upon marriages whose partners sling the hash and fix the sewers of America’s largest and most contentious city) would be worth seeing, particularly with the film’s predominantly African-American cast. Instead, the film engages the issue of racism only once, in its only good joke: fashionably high-strung, glad-handing white partygoers are unable to distinguish two Asian musicians from Ralph (Cedric the Entertainer) and his doofy neighbor Ed (Epps). Sure, there’s a reptilian property developer (Stoltz, who doesn’t have to do much besides show up) threatening to snatch away the Kramdens’ only chance at homeownership, but the movie cares more about its "make money" montages, mother-in-law jokes, and the doleful eyes of a spotted greyhound (animal actor Iggy) rescued from a Dumpster. Leguizamo, of course, is the movie’s wild card; as the dubiously credentialed trainer recruited to prep Iggy for the inevitable Big Race, he’s so bizarre that he threatens to make the movie interesting. Otherwise the movie bumbles along in a sort of gimmicky torpor, as if assured that the pedigree of its cast and its strategic marketing campaign can fill enough urban seats for a decent opening weekend. It’s a shame when a movie brings together so many underutilized thespians of color – even Ajay Naidu of Office Space is in here someplace – and gives them absolutely nothing to do.