Been there
Jan. 26, 2005
Jeffrey K. Lyles
Staff Writer

'Are We There Yet?' driven

by familiar film cliches

Let's start with the good news: "Are We There Yet?" isn't half as bad as the trailers would indicate. The bad news is that the inclusion of a Satchel Paige bobble-head doll as a character is not the worst part of this disappointing Ice Cube family comedy.

The film's basic premise is simple. Ladies' man Nick (Cube, "Barbershop 2") falls head over heels for Suzanne (Nia Long, "Alfie"). The only catch is that Suzanne is a divorcee whose children, Lindsey (Aleisha Allen, "School of Rock") and Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden, "Johnson Family Vacation"), don't want any new guy messing up their plans to reunite their parents. To scare off potential suitors, they act like total brats, but that's just fine since Nick hates children anyway.

At the opening of the film, Nick picks up a brand new SUV that he's spent a good portion of his collectibles-shop-owner profits on, clearly signaling that poor Nick's SUV won't be around long. This becomes even more evident after he volunteers to drive the kids from Oregon to Vancouver to meet Suzanne while she prepares for a big business party.

You would think things could be presented a bit more subtly, but maybe it's not so surprising considering who is at the helm of this movie.

Few things really spell the kiss of death for a film as having Brian Levant as the director. The name Brian Levant may not instantly ring a bell, but his films are a who's who of bad movies--from "Snow Dogs" to "Jingle All the Way" to the classically bad "Flintstones" and "Flintstones in Las Vegas."

Levant likes his films full of energy and all-out chaos, which rarely results in a sensible or enjoyable movie. His tendencies don't change here, resulting in "Are We There Yet?" not so much resembling a movie but a jumbled composition of one bad idea after another, and that's what ultimately dooms the film.

For example, the kids decide they've had enough of Nick and drive his SUV around in a parking lot. Let's try to imagine that these kids can figure out how to drive, but how exactly are they reaching the gas and brake pedals in an SUV? I know, don't let logic get in the way of a "good joke."

Every time it looks as if Levant will just let the film settle down, he adds yet another dose of insanity, such as Nick riding a horse to chase the kids or getting into a fight with a deer. I only wish I were making this up.

Cube and Long originally starred together in Cube's breakout comedy film "Friday," which helped legitimize both of their developing film careers in 1995.

Despite not working together since, the pair has excellent chemistry, making me wish that more of the film's focus were on Nick and Suzanne's courtship as opposed to Nick dealing with her hellion offspring. Hopefully, Cube and Long will pair up again at some point to do a more serious romantic comedy as they make for a believable on-screen pairing.

Allen and Bolden play their parts to perfection, but I found myself wondering whether a younger audience would even find their antics amusing.

Perhaps recognizing that the "aren't these kids just adorable" jokes would wear thin over time, Levant adds such family-movie staples as projectile vomit and urine jokes liberally tossed into the mix. In teen-stoner comedies, it makes a bit more sense as the obnoxious teens smoke and drink their way into some wild situations, but here it just seems thrown in to gross out the audience.

Much like "Meet the Parents," I wondered why any man would put up with this much mess for one woman after the 30th time the kids did something annoying.

"Are We There Yet?" is a movie that's constantly battling itself. There's a perfectly acceptable comedy to be made about a player trying to make good with a divorcee and her kids, but that good premise is challenged by an abundance of predictable kiddie-movie cliches.

It's just too ridiculous to be believable--and not funny enough to make one ignore the outrageous situations.