Monday, April 18, 2005
The comedy series centers around Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), a New York bus driver who dreams of a better life. Together with his best friend and neighbor, Ed Norton (Art Carney) the sewer worker, they always try to come up schemes to strike it rich quick. Patiently waiting for Ralph to come down to earth (or bursting his ego if it gets too big) is his exasperated wife, Alice (Audrey Meadows). As such they'd always fight and quibble about these things while her best friend, neighbor, and Ed's wife, Trixie (Joyce Randolph) offers the needed support in case they need to check up on things. But no matter how much they fight, no matter how big of a failure Ralph is in the end he sees that Alice will always be there and knows that she is the greatest and vice versa. The series ran from 1955-1956, a spin-off of a sketch from The Jackie Gleason Show (much the same way "The Simpsons" spun-off a quick sketch from the Tracy Ullman Show). These episodes, now called Classic 39, have been given up for lost for thirty years before Jackie announced that he had copies stashed away in his vault in Florida. Now meet the cast of the 21st century remake movie version of one of my favorite shows:
New Cast: Gabrielle Union, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, and Regina Hall
It had me yelling "SAAAAAACRRRILEEEGE!!!" at first along with other fans of the show. Though I'm still angry I've got mixed feelings about this. The people at the IMDB forum are divided on this issue, those who yelled and ranted at this radical change were labelled "racists." While they hurled accusations that the original spirit of the series were not being respected and that Hollywood were messing classic shows by 'urbanizing everything' (prompting one horrified poster to ask, "What's next? An all urban 'Casablanca' or 'Gone With the Wind'???"). First of all I'm not racist nor do I look forward to being called one and second, did they actually think they could get away with this without any furor on the part of the fans? Could the very idea of 'urbanizing' the show have Jackie spinning in his grave right now? Maybe. Maybe not. Jackie could have agreed with a remake (which is a really huge leap ) if the producers took the pains to redo a show the same way that Peter Jackson, Neil Jordan, Bryan Singer, or Sam Raimi did with their respective projects. I'm mostly uncomfortable with the idea of remaking something close to being perfect. I mean why would anybody take something that's not even near to being "broken" and remaking it to fit the times? But Paramount Pictures did and now they're getting the flack for their decision.
Frankly I can't imagine Cedric going "Bang! Zoom!" or "One of these days, Alice...POW, right in the kisser!" with the same hilarious effect that the original Ralph Kramden did. But the word that would best descibe this latest outtake is recreate, not "remake." Ok let's play their game of radically recreating the cast of the Honeymooners and pick the actors and actresses I think should have been picked over the ones starring in the movie right now. Right off the top of my head I'd pick Chi McBride to play Ralph Kramden (he tackled comedic roles via Frighteners, The Kid, Revenge of the Nerds II, etc.), Jada Pinkett-Smith as Alice (especially with that no-nonsense look), Chris Tucker as Ed Norton (need I say more?), and Brandy (coming off her sitcom, "Moesha") as Trixie:
My New Cast: Wooohoo! Oh yeah!
Now compare this proposed powerhouse cast with the one pictured above. See the huge difference? They want it to be radical? Leave Mr. Mcbride's look as it is, bald and sporting a goatee. Ms. Smith could sport a short hair or swept back in a pony tail don't matter to me. Mr. Tucker could wear a hunting cap and Ms. Brandy could sport that same style of hair in that picture above, I don't care. Just recreate it right and recreate it good. I'd also do away with the dog because it distracts from the characters.
But like I mentioned earlier a lot of purists are going up in arms against what they rightly perceive to be an injustice on the possible slapdash treatment of their beloved icons. I've yet to see the movie so I'm holding off my opinions about the treatment. But in the interest of getting it right and hoping the producers intended to go the distance to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary, I've come up with a list of possible actors and actresses that could play the roles of the main characters (some of these names originally came up from a list that IMDB. com posters posted in the forum):
Overwhelming votes go to John Goodman (Roseanne, Center of the Universe) to play Ralph Kramden. Yeah, why not? He played the role of Fred Flintstone with gusto in the first movie (the 'toon was based on the Honeymooners to begin with) and he admitted to having based his portrayal of Flintstone on Kramden. He could effectively pull off the same bombastic braggadocio Gleason did with Kramden, he's also got the same booming voice that could intimidate anybody but his wife and still come off as sympathetic whenever he comes home with his tail between his legs. It could work if Mr. Goodman agrees to take on the role.
This could work!
How 'bout Kevin James (King of Queens, Hitch) for Ralph Kramden? Mr. James could inject the much needed young blood for the character enabling him to portray the character in a more sympathetic light. he would not only be effective playing the straight guy against a bumbling sidekick the way the original comedy duo did in the series, but he could also pull off playing the fool when the story calls for it (have you seen him dancing in "Hitch"? That was totally hilarious). He looks almost the same look as Mr. Gleason, just add on a few more pounds and there you go. Besides he also played the same character when they recreated the Honeymooners in his sitcom.
Jim Carrey as Ed Norton? Sure! Art Carney carried the other half of the show as Ralph's sorta goofy partner-in-crime and he's got a funny way of modulating his voice that Jim Carrey could very much imitate. Aaand Mr. Carney's brand of comedy was physical as he was quite limber, which also fits Mr. Carrey to a 'T'. Besides, he could very well improve on the character of Ed and make it his own. Proof of this are his physical transformations in the recent Lemony Snicketts movie and the Grinch which makes him a crowd favorite for for the role beside Kevin James or John Goodman's Ralph.
Or how about Christopher Lloyd? This was something I thought of myself. Anybody old enough to remember his portrayal of Doc Brown in the Back To The Future trilogy who also saw the original Honeymooners would agree that he could also be a strong contender for the role of Ed Norton! I mean, look at those expressions, those same googly eyes and half-gaping mouths and tell me they don't look like two peas in a pod. Although Mr. Lloyd ain't much limber as Jim Carrey he could still do physical comedy and pull off the character. With him in the role the work would be split cleanly in the middle with the actor playing Kramden doing some physical comedy as well.
I could see it now
Mr. Gleason's writers used to call Audrey Meadows "The Rock" because she would hold fast to the scripts and guide Gleason and Carney back to the story from their ad-libs. What better actress could there be to portray the tough missus who could stand up to Ralph's intimidating macho posturings with a voice that could match his intensity, than Joan Cusack (Addams Family Values, In & Out, House of Rock)? Have you seen the way she portrayed her role as a mom in "Raising Helen?" Whoa Nelly! She's one tough nut to crack! But at the same time she could still turn on the charm come off as the nice, sympathetic but firm, loving, dedicated, and loyal wife to her husband. Not to mention she's got the look and she's got impeccable timing as a comedienne.
Jaime Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday, Fierce Creatures, A Fish Called Wanda) would also be perfect to essay the role of Alice. She's not one to back out on any confrontation while firing off witty one liners. She's also subtle and can easily diffuse an inflated ego in a snap. I could see her using a deadpan expression on her face as she listens to her husband rattle off one angry word after another in an attempt to prove his dominance and his right to do as he pleases even though the scheme he's cooked up with his best friend is obviously full of holes. She wouldn't need to raise her voice in reply as all she'd have to do is to doing what she does best by answering him with a loaded affirmative or negative answer. She could also own the character and come up with a treatment that could improve on the original. She's also got great timing as a comedienne as evidenced in the movie, True Lies.
Not much is known about the character of Trixie in the original series except for a career in theater as a burlesque dancer. The character would be pretty much open to interpretation and having Courtney Cox playing Trixie would work out well. She would be the perfect foil to Ed Norton the way her character Monica was a foil to Chandler. And look at them eyes, one minute she would be tender and loving and the next she could have Ed confessing every harebrained scheme he and Ralph had been cooking up since day one. I'm sure Ms. Cox would have great imputs on her portrayal as Trixie, elevating her from playing second fiddle to someone who could run alongside her feisty best friend.
Best friend material
Another perfect actress to play Alice's best friend would be Lisa Kudrow. As Trixie she could bounce off her easy going, girly-girly personality against Alice's strong, uncompromising nature. She would be the perfect actress to cast as the best friend who provides the emotional support and listening ear while bringing a fresh approach to the character also as someone who offers kooky shtick solutions to her neighbor. By recreating the part of Trixie to being the female counterpart of Ed Norton, Ms. Kudrow could also bring in the laughs by way of trading witty lines and reacting against both Alice and Ed as only she can.See? It could have worked and indeed earned a lot of good speculation if the producers did as beautifully with the other previously remade films. If the others can cast Nicole Kidman, in Betwitched who bears a strong resemblance to Elizabeth Montgomery, or Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston who resembled the characters Gomez and Morticia Addams respectively, or the others in movies The Brady Bunch, Dennis the Menace, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Flintstones (at least the first one), Mission: Impossible, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, Starsky and Hutch, etc. why couldn't they do the same with this one? Our beef with this film stands on the fact that the creators behind this film didn't even attempt to approximate the looks of the actors and actresses, they radically changed everything! If the producers of this film took the time to cast the right actors to the roles we wouldn't even be talking about this right now. Even then a lot of people are ranting about doing a movie version of something they should have been left alone. They're afraid (as I am) that the producers messed around with the formula seeding it with stereotypes instead of improving on it. A good example of taking the time to get things right is the Farelly Brothers' plan to do the Three Stooges movie. They're taking their time to cast the right actors in the roles because they know you don't so much as mess with the original materials without raising a howl from their fans. To mess around with beloved shows and characters without so much as showing a smidgen of respect is a huge and terrible mistake and in if this movie stinks then those people responsible behind this should be made to live with their humiliation.
* Relevant forum threads discussing this movie are The Real Reason Why We're Scared of the Casting.... and I remember a thing called respect...