They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If Are We There Yet? is any indication, the way to a divorced mother’s heart is through her kids. However, let the beau beware: those kids can be sniveling spoiled brats and the journey may very well strip you of everything you hold dear and turn you into a sensitive family man. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just doesn’t make for a very good movie.
Nick Persons is a guy’s guy. Everything about him is a playa’s dream. He owns a business dealing in rare sports collectibles, he drives a tricked out luxury SUV with $20,000 spinners, he hates kids and he has a bobble-head of Satchel Paige that regularly talks to him, offering advice on all things women. OK, maybe that last one is a little creepy, but get used to it. Like some kind of bachelorhood oracle, the doll serves as a one man peanut gallery through the entire film.
Enter into Nick’s life one Suzanne Kingston. Her loveliness catches his eye and her - shall we say dimensions - receive the bobble-head’s approval. It’s not long before Nick is falling head over heels for the sweet Suzanne, but two things stand in his way: Suzanne’s kids. The children immediately hate anyone interested in replacing their beloved father. When that same ex-husband bails on taking the kids for the holidays, Suzanne must make last minute plans to have them join her out of town, but she needs Nick to help get them there. Desperate to prove his love to Suzanne, Nick carefully wraps his car’s precious interior in plastic, belts the kids in and starts off on what should be a simple five hour drive. The kids have other plans. Not-so-funny chaos ensues.
Director Brian Levant has made a career out of making family-type films with a tradition of enjoyable silliness. The nineties were kind to him with hits like Beethoven and The Flintstones. He’s also the guy with enough blackmail material on Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad to suck them into Jingle All The Way. Despite those successes, Levant’s work has declined of late, and Are We There Yet? is no exception.
The film boils down to an oddball combination of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Mr. Mom with a little bit of Home Alone slapstick thrown in for good measure. The keystone cop antics and copious bathroom humor gags are likely to entertain the kiddos, but there’s very little here for the grown ups to enjoy. The funnier moments come from Jay Mohr who seems to have found himself in the role of the token white guy. The rest of the time more mature viewers will have to revel in the joy of a Nichelle Nichols cameo and watching Person’s luxury vehicle slowly decimated as his bachelorhood is likewise eroded away.
Ice Cube manages to keep the movie mostly afloat, despite having an overly ridiculous script to work with. He has good chemistry with his child co-stars, yet between the three of them they don’t offer very much worth watching. It’s just a lot of pouting, whining, punching, vomiting and setting things on fire. Tracy Morgan is interesting for about the first five minutes as the voice of Satchel Paige possessing the bobble-head doll, but that shtick gets really old really fast. It’s a clever idea but, one that just didn’t work.
As family movies go, Are We There Yet? doesn’t pass muster. Full of bad examples, boring bits and very little in the way of plot or highbrow gags for grown ups, it’s a movie that will have you asking whether or not you’re at the end yet.
If you aren’t thoroughly bored with the Are We There Yet? experience and care to peruse the DVD features, you’ll actually find this material more enjoyable and amusing than the movie itself. In fact, skip the movie and go straight to the bonus material. You’ll be glad you did.
Road Trippin’ is a fun look at the making-of process. Levant may be loosing his touch for getting a good film to the screen, but he doesn’t seem to have forgotten the formula for having fun on set. The cast and crew had a blast working on the film and it shows. As well, the movie took a lot more special effects than I would have thought and Levant is all too happy to show you how they did it and how entertaining it was to achieve. Best of all, among the cast interviews Jay Mohr takes plenty of pot shots at himself and his role as the token white boy in the film. Even off camera, he’s good for all the best laughs.
Levant offers a commentary track in which he reveals just how passionate he was about the special effects work. He hardly takes a breath between sentences as he gushes over the detail paid to each technical achievement. You can’t help but smile as he goes on and on about the many luxury SUVs destroyed during the film. There’s also a tour of Person’s collectors shop in which Levant babbles on about his other favorite part of the production process: the sports paraphernalia. It’s pretty dry, unless you have a thing for obscure rookie baseball cards.
I’m beginning to sense a trend with these “deleted scenes” on DVDs lately. The slashed selection on this package seems to have been pulled exclusively to pad the bonus menu. It’s two minutes long and could have been left in without any problems one way or the other. It’s worth watching for a snicker, but the better “cut” material is in the ample gag reel. All the funniest stuff always ends up on the cutting floor. Luckily for my sense of humor it landed on the DVD.
There’s no reason to run out and add this movie to your collection unless you need something for the kids to watch over and over again this summer. Of course, I doubt your kids will want to watch it over and over so rent this one for them before investing any of your hard budgeted summer cash on it. For my money, this one belongs in the “previously rented” bin.