To call Honey Daniels a self-starter would be like saying 50 Cent has sold a handful of records—a slight understatement. Twenty-two-year-old Honey moved to the inner city, held down two jobs (one at a record store, the other tending bar) and taught dancing lessons at a community center with a single goal in mind: to catch the eye of a hip-hop video producer and make a name for herself in show business as a dancer. So far she hasn’t had a lot of luck. She has gotten two street urchins, Benny and Raymond, interested in cutting a rug rather than dealing drugs. She has bonded with her best friend Gina over booze, boys and ambition. She has stood in countless lines for countless video auditions. She has attracted the affections of Chaz, a hard-working barber. And she has spent a great deal of time fighting with her mom over her future. But she’s had no luck finding record producers who have a hankering for her dance moves. …
Honey proves to be quite the gracious philanthropist. She returns money to its owners after it has been accidentally dropped on the street. She encourages her dancing students not to let mistakes damage their confidence. She befriends the forlorn Raymond (who worries about his mother’s abusive boyfriend and doesn’t have anywhere to go most days), teaching him how to dance, helping him get a haircut and walking him home through a rough neighborhood. She urges his brother Benny to stay away from the gangsta lifestyle, visits him in jail after he gets busted for dealing and encourages him to stay in school. Honey rightly concludes that loving one’s profession is better than riches and proves it by purchasing property in order to start a dance studio that will keep youngsters off the street.
Other characters aren’t moral slouches either. Honey’s father encourages her dreams responsibly. Chaz intercedes when a gangsta threatens Honey, and later waxes eloquent on the excellence of hard, legitimate work. He provides constant reassurance to her when she is down on her luck. Gina also reassures her friend through many ups and downs, urging her to keep a positive outlook.
After Honey agrees to go on a date with Chaz, one of the barber’s friends intones, “Let us pray. Heavenly Father, please bless Chaz with game immediately.” A poet at a poetry reading states, “The gods make no mistakes.” Chaz reminds Honey that talent and drive are gifts “from God, not a video director.” Honey holds a fundraising dance in a church building. Many characters sport gilded crosses.
“That is sexy!” a video producer named Ellis crows after Honey makes her taping debut. This film revels in thrusting pelvises, taut abs and shimmying “bootays.” Honey’s slick choreography is dazzling to watch, but it’s far too prurient. The movie’s aesthetic is one of bump ‘n’ grind sex appeal, and things such as plot and character development provide only brief breaks from the highly sexualized dance steps.
Also, on or off the stage, immodesty is a given. Fashion runs from low-rise jeans and plunging blouses to ultra-micro-miniskirts and push-up bustiers. Gina clasps her breasts while confronting a guy on a dance floor. Honey is wary of Ellis when he first introduces himself as a video producer, since everyone knows guys “become” producers when they’re angling for sexual intimacy with an ambitious woman. Gina warns Honey that Ellis still might be longing to “dip his fingers into the Honey jar.” Her warning proves true when the producer gets drunk at a party and tries to force a kiss on Honey (he is quickly rebuffed).
Gina yearns for a birthday party replete with liquor and male strippers. A transvestite MC appears at a homosexual club. Bizarre S&M garb turns up in a video Honey choreographs. Honey and Chaz lock lips several times. Ellis slaps a dancer on the rear. Incensed over some sultry moves on a video set, rapper Missy Elliot exclaims, “I don’t know what kind of pornography you’re doing here.”
Gina yanks the hair of one of Honey’s rivals during an exchange of un-pleasantries. Benny is struck by his mother’s boyfriend (off-screen) and appears later with a small cut on his lip. An undercover police officer violently seizes Benny’s arm when he tries to sell him drugs. Honey slaps an intoxicated Ellis when he starts coming on to her.
Close to 10 uses of the s-word, and over 15 other profanities and crudities. God’s name is abused twice.
Honey plays bartender at a club in order to pay the rent, and tells Gina that the job’s perks are free alcohol and dance time. The two friends imbibe at every social occasion. A street kid quips that Raymond’s mother has a “crackhead boyfriend.” Benny sells drugs with his posse on a street corner. Alcohol freely flows at parties.
Honey gives her friends blackjack tips via cell phone as they gamble in Atlantic City. Benny steals a prep school student’s sneakers. Cameos (which are basically promotional spots) by performers such as Jadakiss, Tweet, Missy Elliot and others could inspire viewers to sample their troublesome music.
When virtue is the center of first-time director Bille Woodruff’s cinematic focus, Honey truly is sweet. Responsibility. Graciousness. Selflessness. Determination. All these get ample screen time. In an additional pleasant twist on the rags-to-riches genre—in which money and fame are usually presented as a protagonist’s highest ends—Honey Daniels ends up caring more for her community than cash or cacophonous applause. Honey, however, stumbles hard with its fixation on flesh and booze. Gyrating dance moves and freely flowing liquor will leave audiences with a bitter taste in their mouths once the lights come up.