Dec 10, 2003 at 12:00 am

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that the famous and crazy can still insure their body parts. Every good publicist of the ’50s and ’60s knew one cheap way to cement a starlet’s reputation was to take out a big-dollar policy on a nose or limb or boob or two. Marlene Dietrich did it (vocal cords) and so did Mary Hart of “Entertainment Tonight” (legs) in the modern era.

Last year, gossip rags ran stories saying Jennifer Lopez had a $1 billion policy on her entire body. The story turned out to be false, but believable.

Such stunts may be passé in today’s Hollywood, but Jessica Alba might want to give Allstate a call to see if they’ll put her midriff in good hands. Her torso alone could qualify for a Screen Actors Guild membership thanks to Honey, a movie that’s about as slim as the anatomy splashed on its poster.

The first third of the movie plays like a “Making The Video” crossed with 8 Mile, and Alba’s belly button does more emoting than the rest of her body combined. It’s not her fault that the director and writers are feature film rookies who didn’t even steal well from the “a star is born through dance” genre. Success just sort of stumbles onto Alba’s character Honey Daniels, as she goes from teaching hip-hop dancing in the hood to choreographing videos and VIP access to Manhattan’s hot spots in roughly a week. There are no obstacles to overcome, and her mother’s sole plea to “just teach ballet at an uptown school” comes off sounding lame even before it’s out of her mouth.

But just when you think you’ve paid $8 to see an overpriced, bee-nectar-coated remake of Breakin’, the movie changes course. Honey decides that to keep street kids from falling into a life of crime, she’ll use her gyrating body to raise money for a hip-hop hoofing dance studio. Oh, and along the way she gets hooked up with Mekhi Phifer, who earns the easiest paycheck of his career playing yet another streetwise but upstanding fella. With the ending not in doubt for a second, Honey almost melts away but for two actors. One is Missy Elliott, who’s only on screen for a minute but spends her time jolting the film to life. The other is Lil Romeo, who plays the street kid tottering between dance and crime with an unexpected edge.

These kind of uplifting movies get made over and over again not because millions of people identify with being a music video dancer or a rap star, a drunken writer or even an underbred racehorse.

It’s because audiences know the barriers to happiness — a lack of money, the ignorance of the powerful, the disdain of the wealthy — and we never tire of stories about how someone worthy can beat the system. But while Honey works itself into a sweat spooning out all the sweetness moviegoers demand in tales of triumph over adversity, it neglects that essential dose of sour.

E-mail Justin Hyde at [email protected].