"Are We There Yet?" gets nowhere. Its star Ice Cube remains characteristically amiable, but this thuddingly miscalculated comedy is way beneath him.
The filmmakers clearly intend a family comedy about the lengths to which a guy who doesn't like kids will go when he is attracted to a woman with children -- in this case kids so enamored of their departed and neglectful father and so convinced their parents will get back together that they try to scare off all their mother's potential suitors. There have been worse premises -- but director Brian Levant and a clutch of writers carry this one to such extremes that they end up creating a relentlessly crass picture, not likely the effect they intended.
Levant wastes no time in setting the film's tone: A handsome, smiling man, loaded with gifts, approaches a large Colonial-style home in an upscale Portland, Ore., neighborhood only to be attacked by a barrage of intricate bombardments worthy of a Rube Goldberg invention but in fact devised by gleeful 7-year-old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden) and his 11-year-old sister Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) to drive him away from pursuing their attractive single mother, Suzanne (Nia Long).
Meanwhile, after catching a juvenile shoplifter in the act at his sports memorabilia store, Ice Cube's Nick remarks to his employee pal (Jay Mohr) that "kids are like cockroaches except you can't squish them." Why Nick should have this attitude remains unknown, but Kevin and Lindsey will soon justify these feelings and then some, because Suzanne happens to work at a party-planning establishment across from Nick's store. Not long after they meet, Nick winds up escorting the youngsters to Vancouver, where Suzanne is helping stage a lavish New Year's Eve party.
Demons at the ready, the kids sabotage travel by air and train, forcing Nick to drive them in his brand-new pride and joy, a pricey Lincoln Navigator.
The 300-mile journey will give the two plenty of time to wreck the vehicle, and it's hardly giving anything away to report that they do not pass up the opportunity -- for that and much, much more.
The problem with the movie is that these children are such intractable, indefatigable monsters for so much of the picture that it's impossible for the filmmakers to pull off a last-reel, love-conquers-all turnaround. Not helping matters is that Suzanne remains so unaware of how horribly her children behave when she is not around that she comes off as either dense or irresponsible or both.
Of course the separation of parents is traumatic for children, but Kevin and Lindsey are so out of control that they are dangerous to themselves as well as others. The makers of "Are We There Yet?" apparently saw a lot of humor in the relentless, diabolical incorrigibility of these kids. We were not amused.
'Are We There Yet?'
MPAA rating: PG for language and rude humor
Times guidelines: Unsuitable for impressionable children
Ice Cube...Nick Persons
Nia Long...Suzanne Kingston
Aleisha Allen...Lindsey Kingston
Philip Daniel Allen...Kevin Kingston
A Columbia Pictures release of a Revolution Studios presentation of a Cube Vision production. Director Brian Levant. Producers Dan Kolsrud, Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez. Executive producers Todd Garner, Derek Dauchy. Screenplay Steven Gary Banks & Claudia Grazioso and J. David Stem & David N. Weiss; based on a story by Banks and Grazioso. Cinematographer Thomas Ackerman. Editor Lawrence Jordan. Music David Newman. Costumes Gersha Phillips. Production designer Stephen Lineweaver. Art director Kelvin Humenny. Set decorator Johanne Hubert.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.