Are We Done Yet? (2007) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for some innuendo and brief language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Ice Cube, Nia Long, John C. McGinley, Philip Bolden, Aleisha Allen
Director: Steve Carr
Screenplay: Hank Nelken (based on the 1948 film, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House)
The first time I'd heard that they were making a sequel to the terrible 2005 family film, Are We There Yet?, the first words out of my mouth after hearing the title were, "Why aren't we done yet?". These words also echoed through my mind with each passing minute of this tedious reworking of the classic Cary Grant film(!), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which went through a retooling process to inject the characters from the aforementioned movie. This is the second film in recent memory to take an unlikely source and modernize it for today's audience, but unlike I Think I Love My Wife, this Steve Carr (Rebound, Daddy Day Care) update removes all of the wit and cleverness of the original, then beefs it up with stupid sight gags, terrible characterizations, and a plethora of scenes of "fall on your ass" slapstick that was already old back when the original film was released in 1948.
The sequel picks up a year after the events of Are We There Yet?, although this sequel is so self-contained, you don't even have to see it to follow (or better yet, skip both). Nick (Ice Cube, XXX: State of the Union) has sold his sports memorabilia store in order to fulfill his dream of writing his own sports magazine, but before he can launch it, he needs to pitch it to his publisher, and to do that, he has to secure an interview his former Lakers basketball great, Magic Johnson. Nick soon realizes that living in the city, especially in a tiny condo, is not the best place to raise a family, so he packs everything up and buys the first house he sees, a high-price fixer-upper sold by the enthusiastic real estate agent, Chuck Mitchell (McGinley, Wild Hogs).
From the moment the house is in their name, it proves to be nothing but trouble, with faulty electrical wring, bad plumbing, dry rot, and a host of other calamities that Nick, trying his best to perform the repairs himself, can't keep up with. He calls the only licensed contractor in the vicinity, who just so happens to be the man who sold them the very same house, Chuck. Through a series of unlikely events, Nick realizes that, for better or worse, he's stuck with Chuck, but all the while he feels Chuck responsible for all of the bad things that have happened, and it gets even worse when Nick's new family bonds with this new intruder in Nick's life. With his whole life falling apart, Nick struggles to get his act together, but time, money, and his own sanity are dwindling as the deadline to his publication pitch approaches, as well as the expansion that needs to occur to make room for the twins his wife Suzanne (Long, Premonition) is expecting.
It seems not too long ago that rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube was one of the most fierce, fearsome personalities in hip hop. Once he had that acting bug in him, he did make some ripples with his menacing sneer and take-no-crap attitude that had served him just as well in movies as it had in his music. Even if the films were bad, he still had been able to maintain a certain mystique, and he kept such labels as "sell out" completely at bay by choosing projects that showcase him as a bad-ass man of action, or if a comedy, one respectful of his background as a man of the streets.
As an attempt to soften his image and broaden his appeal, one could almost forgive a purely fluff role like that of Nick in Are We There Yet?. Even if the film itself aimed toward the younger set, at least his character maintained a certain street credibility, with his pimped-out ride and street smarts when it came to fashion, lingo, and music. If fans bit their tongue by not calling Ice Cube a sellout then, certainly his consent to appear in an even more cotton candy sequel threatens to erode his fan base in exchange for what could only be monetary compensation. Hopefully, he cashed a fat paycheck for this one, because it is nearly impossible for him to regain his status as that antiauthoritarian gangster who regularly repudiated the status quo mollification of the masses though crossover commercial ventures exactly like this.
It's not even just the fact that this emasculated father is the one who started the rallying cry of "F*ck tha Police" to an entire generation of young men and women in the late 1980s, but that, even removing his public image out of the equation, his character in this film requires him to be a timid weakling with absolutely no balls of his own. He's afraid of water, he's faints at the sight of childbirth (his guppies producing offspring made him queasy) -- he's even afraid of a deer in one scene. What's worse is that he can't stand anything having to do with parenting or being a spouse, always yelling at his kids to shut up, ignoring his life for long periods so he can pursue his own interests -- his assertion that he will handle the fix-it duties himself only meets with derision, as his wife points out that he couldn't even be bothered a light bulb before. Nick, I'm sorry, but you're a weak-willed, lazy, self-absorbed jackass who needs to, as Ice Cube once famously intoned in song, "check yo self before you wreck yo self".
Since we don't even like Nick as a human being, it's hard to feel for him as he tries to keep his house and family together. Without a rooting interest in seeing him succeed, all hope for the film is extinguished, as the rest is only mindless slapstick and tedious goofiness that wouldn't even be adequate filler in even a semi-decent family film. Just when you think that the film couldn't possibly get any worse, there is a last-minute stomach-turning attempt to bring pathos to the character of Chuck, as if a sad event in his past is any excuse to shyster a struggling family out of tens of thousands of dollars by selling them a house way above its value, bilking them into shelling out more money in repairs without alternate recourse, and then drive a wedge in their lives that breaks them apart, nearly for good. The coup de grace for this fatally wounded comedy comes through a finale that is woefully desperate for laughs, with Chuck speed-walking for miles while forcing the squeamish Nick to plow through childbirth preparations over the phone that sees him intermittently fainting from the sheer nausea of witnessing firsthand his sons' birth.
With the exception of Nick and Chuck, no one in this prolonged sitcom has any discernable personality of their own, leaving us with no one to identify with. We're forced to watch one ignorant doofus get taken by another, and after countless scenes establishing them both as unlikable, we're expected to give a rat's ass that they should all get along? That's hardly har-har.
If the mere sight of blue-collar butt crack exposures, random animal attacks, and clumsy blind plumbers is your idea of a good time, have at it. You may not feel it's done, but I do, and probably 99% of the rest of the public as well. You don't need to stick a fork in, no need for fat ladies to sing a single note -- this project was done before the first inkling of a sequel was cooked up.
©2007 Vince Leo