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The Warm and Fuzzy Side of Ice Cube

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page C01

For rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube, the 15-year transformation from pariah to family entertainment hero begins and ends in the same place: below the belt.

Only now, instead of delivering manly blows, he's taking blows to his manliness. Over and over and over again.

"I'm not trying to take Eddie Murphy's spot and be the family man," Cube says. "I'm still gonna do hard-core movies." (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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In the new slapstick flick "Are We There Yet?" the former mouthpiece of late '80s gangsta-rap progenitors N.W.A. -- a man whose braggadocio about women, guns and racism once had conservatives and rock critics condemning his rhetoric -- stars as a ladies' man who drives a would-be paramour's bratty tykes on a road trip through the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, his new Lincoln Navigator gets coated in juice, food, barf -- and eventually explodes.

That's nothing, however, compared with what his character's groin endures. A young boy kicks him, a runaway horse jostles him and, in perhaps the most inventive entry in cinematic emasculation, Paul Bunyan's ax wallops him.

"Kids love that stuff," says Cube (just Cube, never Ice -- fair warning), sitting in a suite in the Ritz-Carlton Washington. "And this one is for the kids."

Never thought you'd hear the man who infamously hollered "[Expletive] tha Police" ("They have the authority to kill a minority") and later threatened to burn down Korean-owned grocery stores say that, did you?

Dressed in sneakers, bluejeans and a long-sleeved black shirt adorned with the movie's title, the 35-year-old is clamping down on a kielbasa-size cigar. He's also flashing a wide grin that has become just as well-known as the scowl he always wore under that black Raiders cap back in the hard days. He's a handsome dude, more chiseled than his pudgy rep, with an easygoing manner. And not once does he apologize for the crotch jokes.

"Kids love 'Friday,' kids love 'Barbershop,' " Cube says about the two blockbuster comedies he starred in that spawned sequels and helped him establish a film production company, the increasingly influential Cube Vision. "But those movies aren't geared for them. 'Are We There Yet?' is tailor-made for kids. If you want longevity in this business, you have to entertain the new generation so they can be on your team for the long haul."

He waves through a cloud of smoke. "Listen, I'm not trying to take Eddie Murphy's spot and be the family man," he says. "I'm still gonna do hard-core movies, R-rated movies, mix it up."

The man born O'Shea Jackson is a family man now, however. In the late '80s and early '90s, he was considered by some to be anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, anti-women and, well, just plain anti-. Now he's a suburban dad with a great job. Cube has been married for 14 years, he has four children, and he lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, "a great place to rejuvenate. It keeps me focused." He says moving from the party life to the Land of Lawns had a lot to do with his becoming a power player in Hollywood.

"I want to be like Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise," he says. "I want people to hear the name Ice Cube and know [the movie's] not going to be a waste of their money." He craves access to the "Spielberg formula" -- that is, "do the movies that will make the studio profit, then do the period piece or whatever and they'll give you the budget you need."

It's a grandiose goal for sure, but Nia Long, his love interest in "Are We There Yet?" says Cube is entirely capable of achieving it.

"He has a natural ability and talent for making movies that show and reflect everyday people," Long says. "You feel part of the world he's created. He makes movies that are real."

Long, who starred in last year's "Alfie" remake with Jude Law, says Cube's ability as a romantic leading man shouldn't be underestimated, either. In fact, in a fit of giggles, she admits that the rapper was a far better smoocher than the Brit: "Hands down, Cube is the better kisser. His lips are softer, fuller." (Cube never asked Long whether he was a better lip-locker than Law: "I know I am. I ain't got to ask her.")

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