When the French were revolutionizing film criticism in the 1950s, they would study the output of Hollywood directors to see which maintained a consistency of vision over a span of time, in made-to-order studio films as well as personal projects. By that measure, Raleigh native John Schultz qualifies as a recognizable auteur. While Schultz’s brand of humane, heartfelt comedy may be at its most distinctive and idiosyncratic in his two indie features (Bandwagon and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town), it is also the saving grace of three major-studio movies he has directed: Drive Me Crazy, Like Mike and his latest, The Honeymooners, a remake of the old Jackie Gleason sitcom with African-American leads.
Rehashes of old TV shows may be one of recent Hollywood’s most threadbare genres, and this Honeymooners is modest enough not to try to reinvent a formula that worked like a charm a half-century ago. Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer, a performer as genial as Gleason was volcanic) is still an inveterate schemer blessed with a long-suffering wife named Alice (Gabrielle Union) and a couple of feisty neighbors named Ed and Trixie Norton (Mike Epps and Regina Hall).
The canniest thing about Schultz’s handling of the old concept made new is that he honors its easygoing sitcom predictability while injecting an air of incipient absurdism and embracing warmth among the main characters. There’s nothing outrageous or raunchy about this tale of Ralph and Norton’s efforts to break into the dog-racing game. It’s an affectionate, laid-back ride that offers up a number of winning performances and some typically Schultzian oddball embellishments, most notably a scene-stealing supporting performance by John Leguizamo as the most dubious of dog trainers.
The Honeymooners is in theaters nationally.