Are We There Yet?

In 1986, Ice Cube would have had not-nice words for you if you told the rapper that in 19 years, he would be an actor starring alongside a talking bobblehead doll in a PG movie he helped produce.

The only thing new about Are We There Yet?, a brats-versus-bachelor road journey, is Cube’s bearish presence; here, he’s less of an AK-wielding grizzly and more of a plush teddy.

Still, Cube’s gruff charm carries this movie through a story any accelerated kindergartner could plot. The biggest surprise is that awkwardly introduced and poorly integrated bobblehead — such a lame idea, but easily the only thing parents will remember about the film when it’s over.

It’s a plastic recreation of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, whose trailblazing legacy thankfully survives Tracy Morgan’s unfunny use of slang such as “ax” and “holla” in the vocal performance. A considerably more annoying version of Lil’ Penny should give the gist of what it’s like.

Satchel sits atop the dashboard of a new, tricked-out Lincoln Navigator belonging to Nick Persons (Cube), owner of a sports-collectible store and a player with the ladies. When he begins wooing Suzanne (Nia Long), a new professional party planner across the street, Satchel warns Nick against breaking his cardinal rule — no messing with women who have kids.

His advice is well heeded, given the Home Alone-style booby traps awaiting the divorced Suzanne’s suitors at her doorstep. Her kids, Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), hope for their deadbeat dad to someday return. When he’s unable to take the kids over New Year’s Eve as planned, and Suzanne risks losing her job to stay and watch them, in jumps Nick.

In hopes to impress, he offers to fly with them to Vancouver (where she’s traveling for work) to meet her for the holiday. Circumstances force it into nightmarish road trip filled with ignorant truck drivers, attacking deer, over-sugared kids, resultant projectile vomit and more.

Most guys would walk away from a woman whose son launches kicks to the privates and punches to the face at first meeting. But Nick stays in what one character calls “the friend zone,” hoping Suzanne will shift her stance that being buddies is best for her and the kids

Groin kicks and lack of respect don’t exactly live up to the “cool kid” dubbing he gives them. But they at least exhibit likeable personality traits along the way and work up a fair amount of situational sympathy.

As for the funny stuff, Are We There Yet? is the sort of movie whose best bits are mostly in the trailer. Cube’s off-handed quips about Guantanamo Bay and “The Cosby Show” kids, along with his grooving-out head-bop to “The Hamster Dance,” play like brief, enjoyable extras.

Some scenarios for the systematic destruction of Nick’s ride also work, but the movie’s action is perhaps a bit harsher than it should be. Two SUV-versus-semi chases, a full-blown explosion and an asthma attack all seem a little too intense when balanced with the cuter stuff.

You’ll still be checking your watch in hopes of an affirmative answer to the movie’s title. As far as Cube’s concerned, N.W.A. still stands for something. In this case, think of it as Nominally Worthy Adventure.

An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish:

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