Being of a certain age, we will always associate Ice Cube with his N.W.A. days, when he was coming at us "Straight Outta Compton," snarling and muttering about "tha police," and was the rapper the FBI loved to hate. Never mind his fruitful forays both in front of and behind the camera. Ice Cube -- born O'Shea Jackson -- always takes us back, head nodding, fingers snapping, exclaiming, "No, he didn't say that."
(Yes, he did.)
Ice Cube, right, with Jerry Hardin in the would-be family picture "Are We There Yet?"
(Rob Mcewan -- Revolution Studios)
So we're having trouble reconciling our "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" image of Ice Cube with the Cube found in "Are We There Yet?," his latest, and most unfortunate, cinematic endeavor. True, his PG-rated evolution was gradual, from "Boyz n the Hood" to "Three Kings" to the "Barbershop" franchise. And he's not the only bad boy to go the family film route. (Think Eddie Murphy.) Fatherhood, suburban living -- not to mention a nice fat paycheck -- have a funny way of changing even the most reprobate of entertainers.
It would help if "Are We There Yet?" was any good. We were disabused of this notion very early on, right about the time the Satchel Paige bobblehead on the dashboard of Cube's Lincoln Navigator started dispensing love advice. Perhaps talking bobbleheads are the new red flag for filmmakers desperately trying to milk laughs.
Directed by Brian Levant ("Jingle All the Way," "The Flintstones"), "Are We There Yet?" is your standard road movie sprinkled with a little hip-hop flava: Nick (Cube) runs a sports collectibles shop (ergo, the animated Satchel Paige, voiced by "SNL" alum Tracy Morgan). Nick loves his "blingage," the platinum chains bouncing on his chest; he loves his spanking-new Navigator with the spinning rims; and he loves the ladies. He does not, however, love kids: "Kids are like cockroaches," he opines. "Except that you can't squish them." Nice. Of course, he soon falls in love with a lady with kids, Suzanne (Nia Long).
They meet contrived-cute, do the "just friends" courtship dance, and then for reasons too implausible to get into (something about a deadbeat ex and Nick's urge to get Suzanne in the sack), he's on the road with her two young kids, Lindsey and Kevin, driving from Portland, Ore., to Vancouver, Canada, rushing to get there before New Year's Eve.
Her kids, of course, hate Nick as much as he hates them. "You're just a dirty, horny sex man like all the rest," Lindsey tells him. The kids do everything they can to derail Nick, including framing him with a corkscrew at airport security -- high jinks that force them onto the open road. (It's one of the movie's few laugh-aloud moments, along with the kickboxing deer.)
It's a sure bet that everything will be tied up in a neat little Who's Your Daddy moment. Just as it's a sure bet that somewhere along the way, one of the kids is going to hurl all over Nick's new Navigator.
The script seems to be coming at you straight outta development hell. The film credits four writers: Maybe one for the "urban" references. One for the sports references. One to throw in the road movie cliches. We're still figuring out what the fourth was for: to impose narrative structure?
Instead, we've got stereotypes-a-go-go: Raging redneck truckers. Accented Asians. Country bumpkins. Black fathers missing in action. The humor's a tad too raunchy for the kids, and the predictable plot won't win over any of the parents.
We're not mad at Cube, who also served as co-producer, for trying to make a flick that his kids could see. We are mad at him, though, for wasting Long (and for putting her in a really bad wig). He's wasting his own time, too: Cube has talent, and charm to spare. Get them both some decent material. (And get those kids, Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden, out of acting class: They're too cute and too choreographed.)
And what's with the title? It's too easy, but we can't resist, and so we won't: We're not there yet. God, no. Not by a long shot.
Are We There Yet? (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for profanity and rude humor, much of it provided by a rather unfortunate animated bobblehead.