Umberto Eco once suggested that if there are a few hoary old clichés in a film, the effect is tiresome and uninteresting – but if there are a hundred, then it's a good chance that a party is happening.
One thing is for sure: when the familiar plot elements and stock elements start piling up, there had better be a director in charge who knows old movies and is unashamed to declare his or her fondness for their time-honoured conventions.
There was no better party to be had in cinema at the start of 2004 than Honey. It tells the story of Honey (Jessica Alba from TV's Dark Angel). She works behind the bar in a club but lives for the moment when she can exhibit her finest hip hop moves on the dance floor.
If that premise immediately makes you think of Flashdance (1983), Center Stage (2000) and a dozen other movies striving to capture the excitement of a popular trend in music and dance – not to mention an entire tradition of Hollywood musical comedy – then you are on the same wavelength as the canny makers of this film.
Honey has everything you might expect, and more. As in Showgirls (1995), Honey's rise as a dancer and choreographer leads her into the unsavoury clutches of a music industry sleaze, Michael (David Moscow). Like in Beat Street (1984), Honey gets her best ideas from everyday life – not just the kids busting moves on corners, but also those playing sports.
There's a tough-talking but sweet best friend, Gina (Joy Bryant) whom Honey snobbishly leaves behind when she hits the high life, and a brilliant young dancer (Lil' Romeo) who is distracted by ghetto criminality. There's a community hall to be saved via putting-on-a-show, and even a liberal mother (Lonette McKee) to encourage our heroine's social conscience. And there's a hilarious cameo from Missy Elliot.
But it wouldn't mean a thing if the movie didn't swing, and here Honey really comes into its own. It is the feature debut for director Billie Woodruff after an apprenticeship in music video. He gives this film the same kind of energy, warmth and charm that infused other unfairly maligned dance-craze movies of recent years, such as Save the Last Dance (2001). It's a modest but very satisfying achievement, worth savouring on the big screen as well as on DVD.
MORE Woodruff: Beauty Shop
© Adrian Martin January 2004