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Jessica Alba knows what a feelin' is believin'.

© 2003, Universal
All Rights Reserved

Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba, "Dark Angel") is a young hip-hop dancer who dreams of making it in the world of music videos, but is stuck working two jobs and teaching dance at the local community center. When a powerful video director (David Moscow, "Big") catches Honey's moves at a club, he immediately wants her in his next video, starting Honey's climb up the ladder to be a famous choreographer. As she ascends, Honey starts to neglect her own life and friends, which brings her to a crossroads where she must decide between the glamorous life she's always wanted or the home life she's built from scratch.

"Honey" (IMDb listing) has an earnestness that's hard to ignore, but easy to dislike. This hip-hop drama set in the world of music video dancing is one stuffed bird; taking on all types of subplots to justify itself and pretend it has some larger importance other than to showcase star Jessica Alba's glistening abs in action. The screenplay has it all, including thugged-out urban plight, lecherous and rich white men (is there any other kind?), and messages galore on domestic abuse, abandonment, and the importance of dreams. But nothing, outside of those abs, can disguise the fact that "Honey" is basically an updated version of "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo," with Alba stepping into the Lucinda Dickey role and "rapper" Lil' Romeo snagging the Shabba-Do lines. The sad thing is, the film never acknowledges its own mechanical nature, instead it excruciatingly chooses to ride out its collection of clichés, caricatures, and plot holes to the wheezing grand finale as if nobody will notice as long as Alba wears tight clothes and the music is continually pumped out. It's hard to notice anything but the absolute lack of creativity in "Honey."

The director, Billie Woodruff, is a veteran music video manufacturer making his big screen debut. Unfortunately, Woodruff comes to "Honey" armed with only his video instincts, so we have the inescapable parade of low angles and distorted lenses that fail to serve the story. There are a lot of cinematic cosmetics and flashing lights in "Honey" to distract from the plot. But even with the sharp looking cast and parade of hip-hop cameos, Woodruff can't hide that his lead character is nothing short of a saint. Though brightly played by Alba, Honey Daniels is about as cheery and insatiably generous as a fictional character can get: she saves the local youth from a life of crime with her dancing, tries to purchase a community center where the kids can go, and, though living in a pretty economically distressed part of town, never wears the same outfit twice. Alba does what she can with the role, but her Ebonics-heavy performance fits her awkwardly, leaving nothing but snickering when she has to spit out terms like "bling."

The moments of dance are interspersed carefully throughout the film, but are never introduced fast enough to interrupt tedious asides like Honey's romantic relationship with a local barber (a bored stiff Mekhi Phifer) or her eroding association with her friends. The dance sequences are winning, mostly because Woodruff is fully in his element, and photographs the scenes just like a music video. Alba proves herself quite capable of shaking her moneymaker with the rest of the pros, and these sequences are the only pulse in the crayola-drawn script. The unspoken subtext of the film, in which Honey's very profession is probably one of the more unexciting and played-out elements in the current hip-hop world, is never addressed either.

"Honey" wants to motivate, but it's clueless about how to tell a simple story. A director with a little more experience with actors and actual scripted scenes should've been the major concern for the production, not wetting down Jessica Alba.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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