An uncle of mine used to joke that he'd know racial parity had been achieved in Hollywood when black people started making movies as bad as white people's. I always thought his joke aimed too low. But according to his logic, the predominantly black update of ''The Honeymooners" would be an achievement. It's not as bad as the average Hollywood movie, it's stupendously worse.
It's tough to imagine that an American of any stripe has been clamoring for someone to make a movie of the classic television show. But here it is anyway: a vehicle for Cedric the Entertainer to ham and clown and generally look foolish as Ralph Kramden, the irritable bus driver that made Jackie Gleason famous 50 years ago. This Ralph Kramden still drives a bus, and, along with his obtuse pal, Ed Norton (Mike Epps), is still getting himself in trouble with get-rich-quick schemes.
But the movie has a gaping credibility problem whose name is Gabrielle Union. She's the talented and beautiful woman consigned to play Alice, Ralph's wife, and I slouched through this film flabbergasted that such an intelligent, indisputably hot woman would throw her life away on a loser who, to quote my sister in reference to an ex-boyfriend, ''ain't about nothing."
Alice works in a diner, with her best pal, Ed's wife, Trixie (Regina Hall). Alice has been saving money to buy a duplex for the two couples to movie into. Ralph, however, keeps emptying their bank account for nonsense schemes such as hawking T-shirts and racing a dog. That Alice would tolerate this man only makes her look stupid, and the movie is never funny or appealing enough to distract you from the incongruity.
On television, babes married to obnoxious fat dudes is less absurd, principally because, over the course of a season, a show can ingratiate itself enough for an audience not to mind that Jim Belushi, Kevin James, Mark Addy, and Rodney Carrington are less attractive than their TV wives. But there's no love in this movie, and no reason to believe in the Kramdens's marriage for the sake of comedy or romance.
While Alice and Trixie try to stop a slick real estate baron (poor Eric Stoltz) from taking their duplex, Ralph and Ed panhandle, breakdance, and waste money on scratch cards. The movie prizes their ignorance. The black characters are roundly dumber than the white ones. Ed, for instance, thinks Argentina is ruled by a shah. What are the filmmakers trying to tell us? If the idea was to update the show for a generation unaware of its importance in the sitcom pantheon, why have the characters stick so slavishly to dynamics established five decades ago? The movie feels pre-modern.
Inferior remakes appear to be the only way that Hollywood thinks funny black people can carry their own movies. Chris Rock made ''Down to Earth," a version of ''Heaven Can Wait." And Bernie Mac just did ''Guess Who." Cedric is currently signed up for a remake of ''Back to School," that Rodney Dangerfield jalopy from the '80s. How far are we from Wanda Sykes in ''I Love Lucy"?
This is Cedric's seventh movie in a year, and his bellowing, jiggling, hippity-hoppity shtick stopped entertaining me some time ago. His ubiquity makes Jude Law seem like Halley's comet. And his taste in projects suggests a man whose Visa bill is higher than his standards.
''The Honeymooners" is a kindergartner's movie. It's loaded with Cedric's and Epps's exaggerated (not to mention crudely filmed) expressions and one inane pratfall after the next. ''Madagascar," silly as that movie is, has more to offer a conscious adult. Like the critters in that picture, Ralph and Ed are blundering cartoons. But even the cartoons in ''Madagascar" have intelligence and common sense.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.