It’s been a while since we saw a bad John Hughes comedy, and Are We There Yet? more than fits the bill (even though Hughes had absolutely nothing to do with it). The movie was developed and co-produced by its star, Ice Cube, and it represents a clear attempt, after the friendly and mildly provocative folkloric raunch of the Friday and Barbershop series, to mainstream his image even further — to prove he can be a PG player in a Hollywood increasingly devoted to family-friendly high jinks. Are We There Yet? opens on a snowy, tree-lined residential block at Christmastime, then kicks off with two incorrigible children, 11-year-old Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and 7-year-old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden, who has a great baby-rascal face), subjecting their divorced mother’s latest suitor to a mini-version of a Home Alone slapstick spillathon.
Welcome to Cube’s version of Hughesville. Smiling more often than he has in all of his previous films and music videos combined, he plays Nick, the owner of a sports-collectibles store and an unapologetic bachelor. Nick has just purchased a spiffy new babe-mobile SUV, complete with spinning hubcaps, when he spies and falls for Suzanne (Nia Long), an elite party planner and the aforementioned single mom. The feeling is mutual, or at least could be, but her attitude is: Love me, love my kids. It’s up to Nick to prove his fealty by shepherding the two junior monsters on a voyage to Vancouver.
At this point, Are We There Yet? becomes Planes, Trains and Automobiles with one gruff straight man in medallions and oversize sports jerseys facing off against a couple of cute brats who are too precocious for the room. It is, of course, no contest. After Kevin plants a corkscrew on Nick at airport security, the three have to travel by car, and Nick’s exasperation only mounts as he’s forced to listen to plastic dance pop, then hold Kevin aloft as he pees in the sink, then watch as his shiny new Navigator gets punctured, vomited on, and generally trashed mile by mile. At the end of 94 minutes, you can bet he’s been converted into a faithful surrogate daddy. But will the audience follow Ice Cube on this road trip to benign banality? Here’s hoping he books a nonstop return ticket.