Sony // 2005 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // May 13th, 2005
24 hours. 350 miles. His girlfriend's kids. What could possibly go wrong?
It's Home Alone meets Dutch meets Planes, Trains & Automobiles meets some other John Hughes stuff I never want to see again.
Ice Cube (Barbershop) goes from gangsta to wussy and agrees to drive two little brats to Vancouver in an attempt to score with their mother. There are poop jokes, pee jokes, poot jokes, puke jokes, and a boxing match with an animatronic deer. Oh, and a Satchel Paige bobble-head doll acts as a Greek chorus (which we're better off ignoring).
Do we really need this? Who wants to see Ice Cube in a family comedy? Sure, he has kids of his own, and maybe he thought it would be nice to make a movie for them, but given the result here, that's not much of a reason. At least Snoop is smart enough to stick to voiceover work.
Anyway, the whole thing gets under way when Nick Persons (that's Cube) sees Suzanne Kingston (Nia Long, Held Up) walking in front of her party-planning shop. See, big-time player Nick owns a sports memorabilia store right across from Suzanne's business, and he and his buddy, Marty (Jay Mohr, The Adventures of Pluto Nash), are cleaning the windows when Nick gets his first glimpse of Suzanne. Marty warns him about getting mixed up with a divorcee, but Nick goes outside to talk to her. He quickly turns tail when he sees Suzanne's two kids. That night Nick is headed home in his new Navigator and runs across Suzanne, whose car has stalled. Nick initially keeps driving, but he soon turns back to help (I guess he realized he had a possible "Dear Penthouse" letter in the making). He offers her a ride home, but only after he has been fried by his jumper cables (didn't see that joke coming). He then meets her kids, who are of course a couple of hellions. Nick then begins driving Suzanne back and forth to work (car batteries must be scarce in Oregon), and eventually he wants to take their relationship to the next level, but she realizes her kids will be a fly in the ointment of any such relationship. Nick's friends rag him about being Suzanne's lapdog, especially after they find out Nick has offered to drive her to the airport. Suzanne has a job in Vancouver (party planners must be scarce in British Columbia), and her kids are scheduled to stay with her ex-husband while she's out of town. Well, wouldn't you know it, her ex backs out at the last minute. Nick quickly offers to pick up the kids and drop them off for a flight to Vancouver, but Suzanne convinces him to fly up with them. Almost thirty minutes of boring setup, then the so-called fun begins.
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. Suzanne's daughter, Lindsey (Aleisha Allen, School of Rock), is a sassy preteen who isn't going to let any man foil her plans to get her parents back together. Kevin (Philip Bolden, Johnson Family Vacation), Lindsey's ten-year-old brother, is a skinny, brainy, asthmatic little twerp who isn't going to let any man foil his plans to get his parents back together. (The opening scene shows the little monsters using a series of Rube Goldberg devices to take down one of their mother's gentleman callers.) They do everything in their power to sabotage the trip, thinking that Nick is helping out just to get into their mother's pants. They get him busted at an airport security checkpoint, hop off a passenger train so that Nick has to follow them, hop on a freight train in an effort to get away from Nick, lead a trucker to believe Nick has kidnapped them, lock Nick out of his SUV, spill juice in the SUV, projectile vomit in the SUV, cause Nick to drive the SUV off a cliff, and eventually blow up the SUV. Of course, they also learn that Nick's not such a bad guy, that his father walked out on him when he was little, and that their dad's a major-league tool who has a new family he hasn't bothered to tell them about. Aw, I think I'm going to cry.
Are We There Yet? is essentially a 95-minute sitcom. There's nothing distinguished or feature-film-worthy about the acting, the plot, or the gags; everything here has been done before (not to mention better). Four writers are credited with the tired script, and Ice Cube himself wrote a couple of drafts (his primary contribution was making his character more, well, Ice Cube-esque). I mention that so I can posit the following question: Is it just me, or does it seem like the greater the number of writers who work on a film, the more familiar the story becomes? C'mon, how worn out is the kid with asthma thing? Seemingly docile animal suddenly goes wild? Seen it. Neat freak lets a couple of kids get in his new ride? Gee, can't imagine what's going to happen there. Every situation and every gag is telegraphed well ahead of time. Nothing is done to develop the characters beyond their stock roles in the story, and the actors themselves don't contribute much. Ice Cube doesn't make much of an effort to play anyone other than himself. Aleisha Allen rolls her eyes, cocks her head, and screeches; I got the impression she was auditioning for her own Disney Channel series. (Speaking of Disney, there's a scene in which Allen does a karaoke rendition of "Respect," and her singing voice is best described as Minnie Mouse on helium.) Philip Bolden comes across as a graduate of the Gary Coleman School of Acting; I quickly grew tired of the sight of his big, mugging grin. Nia Long and Jay Mohr come off best, but only because they have very little screen time; both spend most of their time talking to Nick on cell phones. (I'm almost positive Long was hired simply because of her history of working with Cube.) Oh, yeah, there's also Nichelle Nichols as a aged, farting, horny babysitter; what she does here isn't as embarrassing as her fan dance in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it's close.
Are We There Yet? comes to DVD sporting a fairly good transfer; it's clean and free of defects, but it's not quite as vibrant as it should be. The Dolby 5.1 track is primarily screen-centric; dialogue is always intelligible, and there are a couple of nice instances of surround action, but it's not as dynamic as it could have been, and too many opportunities for the track to really cut loose are squandered. Extras include a few minutes of unfunny bloopers (many of them actually appear staged), a deleted scene, a couple of DVD-ROM games, a split-screen storyboard/finished film comparison for three scenes, a standard making-of featurette, a showcase of some of the actual sports memorabilia in the store owned by Cube's character, and a commentary from director Brian Levant. Levant (the man who helmed Arnold Schwarzenegger's number-one-smash-hit-holiday-classic Jingle All the Way), who recorded his commentary before the movie's theatrical release, covers pretty much every detail of the film's production: scripting, casting, choice of locations...you name it, Levant discusses it. (I was pissed when Levant mentioned that John Witherspoon, Cube's Friday costar, was the original choice to provide the voice of the Satchel Paige bobble-head doll Nick has on the dash of his Navigator; the job ultimately went to Saturday Night Live alum Tracy Morgan, who is nowhere near as funny as Witherspoon.) Levant is chatty, lively, enthusiastic, and full of information, so it's a shame he doesn't have a better film to discuss.
Is it over yet?
Guilty. It's as simple as that.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Blooper Reel
* Deleted Scene
* "A Tour of Nick's Fine Sports Collectibles" Featurette
* "Road Trippin'--The Making of Are We There Yet?" Featurette
* Storyboard Comparisons
* Director's Commentary
* DVD-ROM Games
* Official Site