Maybe it’s a side effect of the collective dumbing-down of moviegoing audiences. Maybe it’s because this new comedy starring former bad-boy rapper Ice Cube is a prime example of Lowest Common Denominator filmmaking. Maybe it’s because movies like Christmas With the Kranks are just too subtle and understated. I have no idea. What I do know is that sitting through this film was an exercise in self-restraint shared by me and several of the stone-faced, clearly unamused people in the seats around me.
Ice Cube stars as Nick Parsons, the owner of a sports-memorabilia store and a very, very expensive new Lincoln Navigator that would make Xhibit and his Pimp My Ride crew drool. Nick hates kids and this aversion to tiny tots becomes problematic when he falls for single mom Suzanne (Nia Long, who needs to fire her agent for approving her participation in this poop). Suzanne’s two demon-spawn children are Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), a pair of repellent, overly precocious and entirely irritating siblings who decide that the only man right for their mom is their absentee father. When, for some inexplicable reason obviously relating to a curious babysitter deficit and clearly contrived plot maneuverings, a desperate Suzanne needs someone to haul her kids to Vancouver from their home in Portland, Ore., on New Year’s Eve, Nick very reluctantly offers his help. After all, how hard could it be to chaperone the two terrors?
Thus sets in motion a cliché-ridden story that truly tests the bounds of reason as the kids do everything in their power to ruin the trip, traumatize Nick and thwart all proceedings by any means necessary. Just about every possible bodily secretion from pee to vomit to spit gets its share of screen time (it’s comedy GOLD, I tell ya!), as do countless unfunny pratfalls and accidents that would make any sane (or halfway reasonable) character (or audience member, for that matter) implode. Throw in bizarre subplots about truckers on a misguided crusade, a bordering-on-offensive-stereotype of a Chinese car-repair technician, and, worst of all, some wholly out of place sentimentality, and you’ve got one jumbled, choppy, hollow mess. Nevermind the outrageously unbelievable sequence where Lindsey belts out Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in front of a big crowd of little kids who ALL know ALL the words and sing along loudly!!!
There are only two real actors among the cast – the slumming Nia Long and the self-deprecating Jay Mohr as Nick’s friend. Ice Cube looks like he’s phoning it in and his two pint-sized cohorts are Child Actors in the worst sense of the word. You know the type – kids like the cast of Barney, whose supremely affected performances always come off as if they’re playing to the back row and reading dialogue perpetually punctuated by exclamation points and exaggerated stage directions. Sorry, I know they’re young and there’s plenty of room for them to grow into their craft, but it really does do a disservice to the film when it’s nearly impossible to like or sympathize with its young leads.
Are We There Yet? is clearly aimed at the under-14 audience, and I think that makes it all the more insulting. Just because a big-screen comedy is geared towards children doesn’t mean it has to be stupid, obnoxious and devoid of value. This movie tells kids that they can get away with murder as long as there’s an iota of trouble in their lives (you know, enough to elicit some sad violins underscoring their dialogue), and that all their heinous behavior – no matter how emotionally, physically or financially costly – will be forgiven in the flash of a crooked smile.
Will kids enjoy this? Maybe. Will adults? Evidently. Did I? Really, no.