Movie Review: Are We There Yet?
FILM REVIEW: ARE WE THERE YET?
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Success and longevity can eventually turn any movie star's frowns into smiles - even if the frowns are what made the star famous.
Ice Cube, the former hard-case rapper and hip-hop revolutionary of NWA, shows his warm, kid-friendly side in "Are We There Yet?" And though the movie is nothing much, he's surprisingly effective.
Playing a Portland, Ore., sports memorabilia store manager who falls for a young divorced mom (Nia Long) and has to woo her two little kids on a long-distance SUV ride to Vancouver, Cube shows how well he can hold the screen when he's on his best, cuddliest behavior.
The initial setup has Cube as Nick Persons, a store manager who dislikes unruly children, falling hard at first sight for Long's Suzanne Kingston, who has two resourceful kids, Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden). Lindsey and Kevin have been deliberately sabotaging their mom's prospective new boyfriends, sometimes violently, and when Nick shows up, they start a campaign against him as well.
But an emergency and a missed plane pull the would-be beau into duty as a long-distance chauffeur, with Nick driving the malicious children from Portland to Vancouver to rejoin their mother. And though by the end of the ride - and a series of broad, silent-comedy-style encounters with trains, deer and dotty truck drivers - his shiny, new Lincoln Navigator is no longer shiny, Nick still is.
Cube, who debuted memorably as the hot-tempered hood of John Singleton's "Boyz n the Hood," gets into an ingratiating TV-sitcom mode here. He grins and gleams, switches on the charm with Long (another "Hood" vet), rescues the kids repeatedly from a series of improbable road-comedy mishaps, spends a lot of time conversing with a cute bobble-head Satchel Paige dashboard toy (voiced by John Witherspoon), and at one point even uses his own formidable scowl for a sight gag. Throughout, he seems to be trying, at least a smidgen, for some kind of Bill Cosby "Kindly Papa" prize - though most of Cosby's humor, including "Fat Albert," is more cutting-edge than this.
But troublesome as the kids are throughout, we can sense early on that everybody's gone teddy-bear soft. That tends to dull the comedy and tip off the climax, which is none too sharp or unpredictable to begin with.
It's not much of a movie, another bright, shtick-laden gagfest from Brian Levant, director of "The Flintstones" and "Beethoven" - but it's lively and watchable and a nice showcase for a pleasant cast, which also includes Jay Mohr as Nick's best buddy Marty and Nichelle Nichols as a babysitter with the hots for Nick.
"Are We There Yet?" won't make your day, but it won't kill it either.
"Are We There Yet?"
Directed by Brian Levant; written by Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stern and David Weiss; photographed by Thomas Ackerman; edited by Lawrence Jordan; production designed by Stephen Lineweaver; music by David Newman; produced by Matt Alvarez, Ice Cube and Dan Kolsrud. A Columbia Pictures release of a Revolution Studios production; opens Friday, Jan. 21. Running time: 1:31. MPAA rating: PG (language and rude humor).
Nick Persons - Ice Cube
Suzanne Kingston - Nia Long
Lindsey Kingston - Aleisha Allen
Kevin Kingston - Philip Bolden
Marty - Jay Mohr
Al Buck - M.C. Gainey
Miss Mable - Nichelle Nichols