UNLIKE ICE CUBE'S character, Nick, in "Are We There Yet?" -- a child-hating "playah" who learns to love his lady friend's (Nia Long) two bratty kids while trapped in a car with them during a long road trip -- I started out this journey actually liking children. By the end of the movie, I wasn't so sure.
Phony and formulaic from start to finish, the movie may make some viewers feel as if they're trapped in a car themselves with a driver who won't pull over. Instead of two ill-mannered crumb-snatchers, however, we in the audience have to deal with three, since Nick himself often behaves with as much insufferable immaturity as his juvenile companions (Philip Daniel Bolden, a product of the extruded-plastic child-actor factory, and the somewhat more lifelike Aleisha Allen). Make that four. I forgot for a second the talking Satchel Paige bobblehead doll sitting on the dashboard, which provides, courtesy of Tracy Morgan's voice and some digital animation, a running commentary on the proceedings, which can be boiled down to this: the exploitation of children for sexual opportunism. In other words, as the voluble six-inch piece of sports memorabilia points out, over and over again, Nick has taken on this chauffeuring gig simply to get into his woman's pants. More bizarre than funny, the wisecracking Greek chorus of one is an idea that never should have made it past the second draft of the screenplay.
Philip Daniel Bolden, left, and Ice Cube in the insufferable road-trip movie "Are We There Yet?"
(Rob Mcewan -- Columbia Pictures)
Oh, wait, there was no second draft.
At least there doesn't appear to have been, despite, or perhaps because of, the four (count 'em, four) credited screenwriters, whom I will spare the indignity of mentioning. Oh, what the heck: Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss. Look, they didn't spare me the projectile vomiting scene.
You knew that was coming, didn't you? That and the urinary incontinence, not to mention all the other things that can go wrong while traveling with children. But what you really knew was coming, as anyone who has ever sat through a road movie like this ought to know, is the bogus, script-induced epiphany, during which our beleaguered travelers bond over -- well, frankly, I have no idea.
If you buy it when Nick says, suddenly and for no apparent reason after all his charges have subjected him to, "You guys are some cool kids," I can only admire your, um, refreshing lack of cynicism.
By the end of the film, when Nick is shown giving the kids some of his gem-encrusted jewelry as a token of his affection, I had given up expecting anything, let alone real emotion, from a movie in which bling equals love.
ARE WE THERE YET? (PG, 91 minutes) -- Contains brief, mild vulgarity, mild sexual humor, ethnic and bathroom jokes, and child endangerment for comedic purposes. Area theaters.