Are We There Yet?

on January 21, 2005 by Kim Williamson
One album was called "Death Certificate." Another was "Lethal Injection." A third was "The Predator." These days, though, the hip-hop artist who sang songs like "Cave Bitch" and "I Wanna Kill Sam" is into making a family comedy movie. However paradoxically, but not surprisingly, the ability of Ice Cube to fit into disparate sectors of stateside society allows him to provide "Are We There Yet?" with its greatest virtue: His warm presence. It's a pleasure to watch a humanistic movie in which an imperfect man eventually finds a way to get along with everyone.

The story: The owner of a sports memorabilia store, Nick Persons (Ice Cube), he of a fine black Lincoln Navigator and a speed-dial black-book reputation, is smitten with the curvaceous new employee, Suzanne Kensington ("Alfie's" Nia Long), of the party-planning store located across the street in Nick's quaint Portland downtown. The only hitch: Suzanne, a divorcee, has two children: the assured and snap-talkin' Lindsey ("School of Rock's" Aleisha Allen, underchallenged here) and the smart-but-asthmatic Kevin ("Johnson Family Vacation's" Philip Daniel Bolden, overchallenged here). And Nick, a pure ladies' man, hates children; torn between his randy desire for the woman and his deep distaste for the children -- who, unbeknownst to Nick, in their belief their father will return always make sure to make mincemeat of any man who shows interest in their mother -- Nick becomes Suzanne's "friend." It's a friendship that quickly meets its ultimate test, when Nick finds himself babysitting the two little monsters as he first tries to fly them, then take them by train, then drive them 300 miles to Vancouver, where Suzanne has gone to oversee an important party. During the drive, Nick is tested beyond his limits by the SUV-stealing, interior-destroying, exterior-trashing, yet ultimately life-changing antics of the terrorizing tykes.

Comparisons to "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "Home Alone" are probably unavoidable -- but, in soon leaving behind all vehicles but the Lincoln, and having the sufferee be not the malcontent but the good guy, "Are We There Yet?" takes it own path. That path, however, is marred with long stretches of the pothole most anathemic to comedy: dead air. What works a bit more memorably, or a little less forgetably, in this family comedy is not the comedy but the family: When the children decamp mid-journey for their father's house, only to discover that he has a happy new wife and a beloved new baby about which, seeing the little one in his dad's arms, Kevin says broken-heartedly, "He used to hold me like that," leaving the unlikely Nick to save the day both physically and emotionally, "Are We There Yet?" nearly arrives. Yet at movie's end, when the three travels-tested combatants and Suzanne have a final coming-together, the bonding is forced, undoing the moments of truer feeling that had come before.

Inscrutably, there is a continuing bit of CGI intrusion in the form of a talking bobble-head dashboard doll of famed black pitcher Satchel Paige, with which Nick carries on unpersuasive conversation during the trip. A number of other narrative elements -- for examples, that Nick was a promising baseball player whose career was ended by injury, and that he came from a tough urban neighborhood now far distant, left behind for the bucolic and mostly white landscape of Oregon -- although frought with thematic potential seem thrown into the story for no reason other than to be bits of biography. In the end, audiences exiting "Are We There Yet?" are likely to answer, with regret, no. scene from movie Starring Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen, Philip Daniel Bolden and Jay Mohr. Directed by Brian Levant. Written by Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss. Produced by Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez and Dan Kolsrud. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG for language and rude humor. Running time: 94 min.
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