Are We There Yet?

Jan 26, 2005 at 12:00 am

In the middle of this film, Ice Cube’s character shows a little kid the proper way to snarl. Ice has got a snarl no one would cross, and this touching moment leads to one of the movie’s cutest scenes, when the little boy uses his newfound snarl and successfully wards off a pint-sized thug at a kiddie party.

Hold up for a minute. Is that really Ice Cube we’re talking about, the gangsta rapper with a menacing scowl that’s carried him through Three Kings, Boyz N the Hood and N.W.A.? The same guy who once rapped: Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube/From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes/When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off ?

It seems Ice Cube has gotten so soft he’s all but melted into a drippy little puddle. The star of the weed-friendly Friday trilogy now acts alongside a couple of precocious kids in a PG-flick that’s not just Barbershop soft, but marshmallow fluff, Candyland, gumdrops and lollipops soft.

Right now you can catch Ice Cube on the small screen, looking all tough and gangsta behind Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child latest video — but on the big screen, he comes off downright huggable by the end of Are We There Yet?

Still, he doesn’t seem all that out of place in this silly little picture. His grimace always reads “stop bugging me, punks,” which is perfect for his character, Nick Persons, a guy who hates children but winds up driving two kids some 300 miles to impress their single mom (Nia Long).

A handful of funny gags brighten the movie, including a hilarious cameo from Detroit’s own John Witherspoon as the voice of a Satchel Paige bobblehead. But the few chuckles and Ice Cube’s charisma aren’t enough to save this road-trip movie from disaster.

The kindler, gentler rapper’s young co-stars deliver a couple of the most forced and irritating performances since Macaulay Culkin put on aftershave in Home Alone.

To their credit, the kids (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden) aren’t given much to work with in a script heavy with road-trip clichés (take the title, for instance). The SUV gets trashed; the kids hop a train; keys and luggage get lost; an asthma inhaler runs out; and Ice Cube spars with ill-tempered, computer-generated wildlife.

Surely some kids will relate to the subplot about feeling abandoned by a deadbeat dad, but the story is oversimplified. Any genuine sentiment gets lost in a Lincoln Navigator-full of drivel, including no fewer than three inspirational speeches delivered by Ice Cube. Toss in a group-hug ending that’ll make you gag, and you’ll be wishing this trip would end too.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].