In the aftermath of Sept. 11, rappers like Honey co-star Missy Elliott responded to the stress of a violent, uncertain time by retreating into the safety of nostalgia. It was only a matter of time before hip-hop cinema caught the retro bug, as well, and the past few years have seen a number of halting steps in that direction. Paid In Full and Glitter both took place in the '80s, Brown Sugar fetishized hip-hop's old school, and now Honey essentially remakes Flashdance for girls too young to remember the trend-setting sartorial stylings of Jennifer Beals. Essentially a pretty, feature-length hip-hop music video, Honey shamelessly steals not just from Flashdance, but also from every backstage drama in which a plucky trouper overcomes obstacles by believing in herself and following her dreams. Jessica Alba stars as an aspiring dancer who receives her big break when a hotshot video director (David Moscow) takes a shine to her and promotes her from dancer to choreographer. Alas, Alba's relationship with Moscow takes an ugly turn, and she's blacklisted from videos just when she's starting to raise money to build a dance studio that would keep wide-eyed moppets off the streets and away from the drugs and the gangs. Will the plucky heroine with abs of steel and a heart of gold save the day for lovable dancing street urchins? Or will a sexual harasser and a competing choreographer who puts the "ho" in "video hoochie" destroy her earnest dreams? The answer is never in doubt, but Honey goes through the motions with cheesy élan, ending with perhaps the most dependable show-business cliché of all time: a big show, staged to save the safe haven for scruffy little angels with dirty faces. It says much about Honey's brand of movie that one of its main accomplishments is lighting Jessica Alba in a way that makes her look like the world's most beatific beauty. If there were an Academy Award for lighting an actress' hair, it would go to Honey for giving Alba a gold-inflected halo of soft, luxurious curls to go with her saintly persona. The camera doesn't just love Alba, whose radiance and physicality helps mask the fact that she's never as tough as the film intermittently requires her to be: It loves her with the sort of psychotic devotion that leads to restraining orders and arrests. That aside, Honey is cotton-candy filmmaking, all spun sugar and hot air.

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