Are We There Yet?

(2005) ** Pg
92 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Steve Carr. Cast: Earvin Johnson, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen, Philip Bolden.

The CubeVision production Are We There Yet? once more proves the business savvy of Ice Cube: this kiddie-pleasing comedy will make bank. Like many family comedies, it's neither good nor as bad as the previews would suggest. Basically, it's Hollywood comedy mulch as blandly inoffensive as "The Hampster Dance Song" the movie's characters enjoy.

Ice Cube plays Nick Persons, a jersey-clad perpetual adolescent who loves his "blingage" and hangs out his tongue at women (one tells him, "You eat like my seven-year-old son. Kinda dress like him, too"). Ironically, he hates kids. "They're like cockroaches, 'cept you can't squish 'em," he says. But when he gets a load of hot mama Nia Long (stunning but awful), not even her genuinely obnoxious rugrats (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden) can scare him off. Until he gets stuck with them in a cross-country nightmare a la Planes, Trains & Automobiles, that is.

Are We There Yet? has a few funny and well-timed sight gags, like Ice Cube running through a train car as the stationary kids on the platform watch, a misjudged leap from said train, and an inevitable but well-timed vomit joke. Unfortunately, the movie has many more annoyances, like a karaoke scene in which the girl sings "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and a Satchel Paige bobblehead that dispenses advice to Ice Cube throughout the picture, illustrating, I suppose, that he's an undiagnosed schizophrenic.

Are We There Yet? is, of course, predictable in the extreme, with the young boy kicking Nick in the balls, calling him "dirty, horny sex man," and eventually bonding to the big lug. The script also manufactures urgency with an arbitrary 8 o'clock deadline for Nick to return the kids to their mom. The ridiculous resolution—post-public-fracas and trimmed with a highlight reel of the film's preceding ninety minutes—makes everything okay.

Save for the pleasingly put-upon Ice Cube, the acting is aimed squarely at the back row of the theater. Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols proves she's an actor by playing dumpy babysitter Miss Mabel, who farts and comes on to Nick. Goodbye, class; hello, paycheck.

Director Brian Levant channels early Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting, anyone?) by alternating rocket-fueled slapstick with soft-piano sentiment and throwing in an offensive Chinese stereotype that I had hoped went out in the '80s (Cube tells him "Sayonara" on the way out, adding insult to injury). The excusing of the kids' bad behavior is disconcerting. When a trucker stereotype deadpans, "That man's settin' a bad example for those kids," he might as well be talking about Levant. Then again, it's not every day you see Ice Cube, on a horse, charging after a train.

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