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By Pete Vonder Haar | January 21, 2005

Ice Cube got his start as one of the hardest of the hard, rapping with N.W.A. and then as a successful solo artist. He made his acting debut in John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood,” and followed that up with roles in films like “Higher Learning” and “Trespass.” After branching out into comedy with the “Friday” movies, Cube became more user friendly, for lack of a better phrase, but still managed to maintain his street cred for a time. Then came a series of paycheck roles which took some of the shine off his O.G. image, including allowing himself to get tied up by Jon Voight in “Anaconda” and appearing in two “Barbershop” movies. Now he’s playing the hapless protagonist in the lackluster “Are We There Yet?,” which is a pretty emphatic argument for making the former O’Shea Jackson turn in his “gangsta” merit badge. Somehow, “Life ain’t nothin’ but diapers and minivans” just doesn’t pack the same punch.

In “Are We There Yet?,” Cube plays Nick Persons, owner of a Portland, OR sports collectibles store and unrepentant ladies man. When he’s not ogling women, he’s loudly voicing his disdain for children in such a way that a climactic scene involving lots of hugs seems well nigh inevitable. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Nick is eager to make the acquaintance of one Suzanne Kingston (Nia Long), a divorcee who catches his eye outside his store one day. Nick’s plans are complicated by her two kids, Lindsey and Kevin, who are so convinced their estranged father is coming back someday they concoct elaborate abuses for any man with the gall to take an interest in their mom.

Suzanne’s car conveniently breaks down one night, and Nick gives her a ride home. Predictably, he starts ferrying her to work (presented in a nifty montage that allows Cube to trot out every piece of sports apparel he owns) and running errands for her, leading one to wonder how long it takes to get a goddamned car fixed in Portland. He does all this against the advice of his friend Marty (Jay Mohr) and his Satchel Paige bobble head.

That’s right, Nick has a Satch bobble head on the dash of his prized Lincoln Navigator, and it counsels him on weighty matters of the heart. This device is presented in such an obnoxious way that it wouldn’t surprise me if Paige’s estate took action against the filmmakers for misrepresentation. Somehow, I have a hard time believing the same guy who said, “Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common” would be reincarnated as a smack-talking goofball.

This friendly behavior of Nick’s culminates in his agreeing to fly with the kids to meet Suzanne at her job site in Vancouver. Through a series of unlikely mishaps, the three end up piling into Nick’s SUV for the 350 mile drive. Here their troubles begin, and we also learn that Nick is not only led around by his penis, but a certifiable moron as well. Lindsey and Kevin are evil little bastards who perform riotous tricks like pretending they’re being kidnapped and faking asthma attacks to screw with their mother’s suitor. So, on one hand you have this avowedly anti-children “playah,” and on the other a couple of rugrats determined to make his life a living hell. Let the comedy begin.

The expression “family comedy” is usually enough to make me grab for the airsick bag, and while “Are We There Yet?” attempts to deal with the issue of growing up fatherless in a semi-serious manner, it can’t compete with the pratfalls. Director Brian Levant (also known for such fare as “Snow Dogs,” “Jingle All the Way, and both “Flintstones” movies) lacks the subtlety necessary to limit himself, for example, to only two scenes where Ice Cube gets whacked in the nuts. All the excessive slapstick and juvenile antics (Nichelle Nichols plays a farting granny, of all things, thus driving a final nail into the 25 year-old coffin of my Uhura fantasies) keep the audience from making any kind of connection with the characters and prevents “Are We There Yet?” from being anything more than another disposable January release.

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