The most interesting thing about director Brian Levant’s film Are We There Yet? are the names of the three top-billed actors: Ice Cube, Nia Long, and Jay Mohr. Yes, it’s absolutely disheartening to admit it, but seeing the structural similarity of the three stars’ names during the end credits was the sole aspect of the film that stuck with me. I’d like to think that Levant, a family film veteran, made this “red herring” casting choice on purpose, if only to explain why Jay Mohr is even in this film, other than to act as a plot-turning device in a random moment in the third act of the story. Mohr’s is a classic example of the undeveloped character with a role that holds less weight than that of a deer Cube nearly runs over later in the film. But character development may be the least of the film’s problems. Levant, working off the screenplay credited to a total of 4! screenwriters, has created an uncharacteristically mean-spirited mash-up of physical comedy and familial drama (or at least an attempt at familial drama).
The film tells the story of Nick (Cube) – a small business owner/single bachelor whose “playboy” outlook on women quickly changes after he meets beautiful single mother Suzanne (Long). A man who used to laugh-off the possibility of a serious relationship, Nick is suddenly ready to do anything to win Suzanne’s heart, even risking getting stuck in the dreaded “friend-zone.” When she asks him to travel with her two young, boyfriend-pranking kids Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden) from Portland, OR to Vancouver, his devotion is put to the absolute limits. The film makes the kids as unlikable as possible, but it absolves their behavior with the fact that they miss their uncaring, nowhere-to-be-found father. While the message here is potentially positive – that single parent family children secretly hope that the parents will get back together, the portrayal is almost offensive. The kids are blind to reality, making dangerously stupid decisions (like deciding to get on a cargo train in one of the film’s least believable sequences, which is saying a lot), and ignoring or punishing every effort Nick makes to win them over. In a way, Levant forces his audience to blame the kids, but in the last act decides to turn it around and almost begs us for our sympathy. Too little, too late.
The story isn’t helped by the actors much. Cube is awkward in a family-friendly comedy, especially one that calls less on his acting talent, then on his ability to sell a scene like the one in which he boxes with the aforementioned deer. Physical comedy is not his strong suit, and his presence is better felt in the still moments of the film. Believe it or not, Ice Cube is more of a “face” actor than a “body” one. The two child actors are forced into playing terrible people, and I guess the fact that I hated them by the film’s 30-minute mark means that their performances were effective for what they were, clumsy line delivery and all. Long and Mohr don’t have anywhere near enough screen time to leave an impression. In fact, Nick’s bobble head doll of Satchel Paige has more screen time then they do. Voiced by Tracy Morgan during hallucinatory scenes in Nick’s head, this might be the most disrespectful (and not to mention annoying) portrayal of someone who deserved respect in real life. Instead of using the bobble head as a voice of wisdom, Levant would rather it be a sex and alcohol-obsessed woman-hater. I mean seriously, what did Satchel Paige ever do to Levant?
I think Are We There Yet? should go down in history as one of the least enjoyable comedies of the last decade. It portrays young kids (and legendary athletes) in a needlessly and overtly negative light, which is unforgivable given their familial circumstances. There isn’t a single laugh in site, just an endless exploitation of our feelings.