- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

If the “Home Alone” movies hit the road, you’d end up with “Are We There Yet?” The family film follows a dedicated bachelor (Ice Cube) baby-sitting brats trained in the Macaulay Culkin school of juvenile self-defense.

Cream pies to the face. Marbles scattered across the floor.

We feel as woozy as the children’s victims after 90 minutes of this well-intentioned farce, but mostly because the film tugs on our “awwww” strings way too hard.

Rapper-actor Ice Cube plays Nick, a sports memorabilia shop owner content with his single status. That changes when he spots Suzanne (Nia Long) walking outside his shop. It’s commitment at first sight, but Nick doesn’t realize Suzanne is a single mother of two, a package deal for which he’d rather not sign on.

Suzanne, in turn, is fed up with boys like Nick who refuse to act like men.

To prove his worthiness, Nick first escorts Suzanne around town in his sweet Lincoln Navigator, then he agrees to deliver her children (Aleisha Allen and Philip Daniel Bolden) to Vancouver, where Suzanne must fly for a major work assignment.

Nick tries the plane, then the train, but those rascally children sabotage both. They think their deadbeat dad is coming back home, so they want to make sure their mom is still single when he arrives.

The trio is forced to take Nick’s new SUV, a decision that spells disaster for both the vehicle and Nick’s remaining unfrayed nerves.

By the time they reach Vancouver, there’s little left of the SUV, but Nick is starting to feel differently about parenthood.

Why, we have no idea.

That gap cripples the emotional momentum “Are We There Yet” needs to distinguish it from other slapstick romps.

Director Brian Levant, a master of the mediocre kiddie film (“The Flintstones,” “Snow Dogs”), finesses the physical comedy better than the requisite epiphanies.

The cast isn’t to blame for the film’s faults.

Sassy without forfeiting audience sympathy, young Aleisha Allen shows promise, and Miss Long’s moments on screen are too few.

Ice Cube proves once again he’s more than just a glaring gangsta let loose on screen. Even at his paternal best, however, he can’t make us forgive the screenwriters for so baldly using one child’s asthma condition to push the plot forward not once but twice.

“Are We There Yet?” coming on the heels of last year’s “Johnson Family Vacation,” could represent something new in movie audience targeting, the black family film.

Could this be the winner the upstart subgenre needs to take root? Nah, we’re not there yet.

**

WHAT: “Are We There Yet?”

RATING: PG (Some harsh language and comic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Brian Levant. Screenplay by Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stern and David N. Weiss.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com/movies/arewethereyet/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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