First-time feature director Bille Woodruff, who helmed several music videos, mostly hip-hop including Nelly’s Hot in Herre but also Celine Dion’s My Heart will Go On, plays to his strengths here. Parts of the movie are essentially a showcase for what you’d find in his videos, yet there runs such a feel-good energy throughout “Honey” that it doesn’t feel forced down our throats.

The film is about a strong young woman’s efforts to find happiness for herself and others. Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) is a dance instructor at a youth center in the Bronx (the movie was actually shot in Toronto) who also works at a club and a record store.

After a shift at her dance club where she gets “recruited” by video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow), Honey and best friend Gina (Antwone Fisher’s Joy Bryant) stumble upon a group of neighborhood kids breakdancing in a backalley. A first connection is made there with impossible-not-to-like little Raymond (8 yrs-old Zachary Williams), which will serve as a thread throughout the film.

Honey gets to be a dancer in Michael’s videos and is soon made choreographer. Her new job duties cause her to abandon teaching her class, and she has to miss Gina’s birthday party in Atlantic City. Michael’s true intentions are later revealed at a party, and he gets what he deserves when he attempts to turn his relationship with Honey into something more, er, physical.

Meanwhile, the center shuts down because of decay and the kids, who were already missing Honey, are left with no place to go to. Raymond’s brother, Benny (Lil’Romeo) looks as if he’ll be back to “thug life”, especially after Michael gets back at Honey by ditching her idea to have the kids star in Ginuwine’s video (Tweet, Jadakiss and Sheek also appear, and Missy Elliott has two funny cameos).

Honey, apparently blacklisted, cannot find work. She was counting on the money for a payment on a building where she wanted to open a dance school. Undeterred, she resolves to put on a dance benefit with the neighborhood youngsters. Her boyfriend Chaz (8 Mile’s Mekhi Phifer) finds her an old church about to be turned into office space.

The story find time to pause for well-written dialogue, like when Honey and Chaz are in the barbershop talking about what can steer people on the right track in life. The romance between these two unfolds quite naturally.

Is the story too good to seem true? The movie’s focus is on showing the power, and inherent goodness, of initiating positive change. The plot points it takes to get there should not necessarily be dismissed out of cynicism. Would Chaz really know somebody with a tip about an available place for the benefit? Would it actually draw a crowd? Would a banker know people willing to financially support Honey’s dance school project? Once in a while, a film will pull you in despite a few narrative shortcuts.

The charm of Honey is in the resiliency of the title character. Alba shines in probably her biggest role yet, other than television’s Dark Angel. She has the energy for the dance scenes but also a silent strength about her that radiates, and there is something very sweet about how Honey takes young Raymond, a kid from a tough home, under her wing. I also liked how the screenplay dealt with the ending, being in line with the heartfelt intentions of Honey for that final big show, capping a very enjoyable ride.

Review by J-F Tremblay