ARE WE THERE YET?
Ice Cube Goes Cold
Single Guy Trap Comedy Is A Stumper
By Cole Smithey
With one of the most hackneyed expressions in children-based comedy movies, "Are We There Yet?" fulfills every low expectation that its urban target audience will bring to their cinema's seats. Nick (Ice Cube - "Barbershop") plays a 35-year-old case of arrested development who makes the mistake of playing foot servant to Suzanne (Nia Long), a divorced woman with two hateful children, in a wayward attempt at starting up a relationship before his bachelor clock runs out. Nick witlessly agrees to shepherd Suzanne’s kids to Vancouver to be with their mother on New Year’s Eve after her ex-husband reneges on taking them. Nick suffers every humiliation of physical abuse and material loss on an extended road-trip that finally brings him what he deserves. This "Johnson’s Family Vacation"-rip-off makes that tepid comedy look like a masterpiece by comparison.
After the success of the "Barbershop" franchise, audiences are sufficiently clued in to Ice Cube’s self image as a put-upon urban guy with an overworked affectation of wearing only one shirt as a constant fashion statement– or lack thereof. His simplistic style of dress is supported in the story by Nick’s ownership of a football and baseball memorabilia store that he operates with his chum Marty (Jay Mohr).
Nick sees himself as a ladies man ready to make all the right moves after he buys a pimped-out black Lincoln Navigator. The purchase of a fancy car, that we gradually witness being destroyed, puts the movie so uncomfortably close to last year’s "Johnson’s Family Vacation" that at times you feel like you’re watching the same movie with one glaring exception. No one in this movie is having any fun.
Nick’s grand plans for many happy hook-ups with the opposite sex are dashed when he falls for Suzanne's dime-a-dozen physical beauty. She runs a banquet-planning business across the street from Nick's shop.
Even though Nick thinks of children as cockroaches that can’t be "squished," he is unable to resist rescuing Suzanne when he discovers her with her car broken down in the pouring rain.
The event sets into motion a pussy-whipped (not desert topping) relationship whereby Nick chauffeurs Suzanne to and from work for many days hoping that she will deign to unlock their singularly beneficial relationship from the "friend zone" that Nick’s friends warn him to abandon.
Before the film's second act, the audience is taught to hold a low esteem for Nick, harbor animosity toward Suzanne’s ill-mannered children, and contain a stern suspicion for Suzanne. She seems to be more interested in testing Nick’s loyalty than in looking out for the safety of her kids.
The four screenwriters responsible for the comic travesty create a narrative monster that’s top heavy with layers of unintended subtext that tips the scale on what an audience can endorse as "funny."
The film’s agonizing second and third acts are a predictably escalating series of child induced horrors strewn across a plane, a train, and Nick’s doomed SUV. As Nick’s frequently ignored conscience talks to him through the guise of a CGI-infected Satchel Paige bobblehead doll, little Lindsey and Kevin act out their abandonment issues by persuading a passing trucker that Nick is a child molester who has kidnapped them. Their mean spirited act almost costs all of them their lives when the trucker decides to run Nick off the road with the help of one of his fellow trucker good buddies.
It’s a relief when "Are We There Yet?" crashes into its final scenes that announce we have arrived at the close of another dog of a movie by director Brian Levant ("Snow Dogs"). "Are We There Yet?" may not make it onto the top ten worst movies of 2005, but it's chances are slim.
Rated PG. 91 mins. (D-) (One Star)