With Barbershop and Barbershop 2, Ice Cube has shown that his production company, Cube Vision, can create an "urban" franchise that's grittier and fresher than pink-and-white comedy series like, say, Legally Blonde. But Are We There Yet? gives off a stale odor. You can smell it from the trailer.
Ice Cube stars as a Portland bachelor who loathes kids - too many tykes shoplift from his sports-collectible store. So naturally he falls for a fetching upscale party-planner who also happens to be a divorcee and single mom (Nia Long). Her 11-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy have dedicated themselves to fending off new suitors. Their hearts belong to their selfish daddy.
When Ice Cube agrees to escort the kids to Vancouver, where his crush has been setting up a New Year's Eve bash, all we get is a battle of nitwits. It's two pint-sized, cold-blooded man-haters vs. a preoccupied adult who sees them solely as the means to impress Ms. Long.
The movie's hold-your-nose laughs come from a vomit joke, a urination sequence and a papier-mache Paul Bunyan lowering his axe into Ice Cube's crotch. Of course, Are We There Yet? aims to provide the cockle-warming life lesson that friendship and family matter more than mere possessions like Ice Cube's Lincoln Navigator. But the picture ends up a commercial for the car's amazing durability.
It was a mistake to reduce Satchel Paige to a bobble-head dashboard figure who speaks privately to Ice Cube in the voice of former Saturday Night Live comic Tracy Morgan. The real bobble-heads here are the director (Brian Levant) and, especially, the writers (Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss). Would even a kiddie-phobe like Ice Cube's self-styled "player" refer to a mother as "a breeder"?
Ice Cube recently told the industry pros on AMC's Shootout that he likes all varieties of family comedies. But as a producer his way of showing that affection is to mix every formula of G and PG farce - brattiness, grade-school scatology, massive material destruction - into a noxious, kickless punch. By the time it hits the half-hour mark, Are We There Yet? will have most audiences asking, "Can we leave now?"
Are We There Yet?
Starring Ice Cube, Nia Long, Jay Mohr
Directed by Brian Levant
Released by Columbia
Time 95 minutes
Sun Score *