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Keeping the kids from destroying him isn't easy



Published: Thu, January 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chevy Chase-approved, this road flick doesn't really go anywhere.

By ROGER MOORE

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer did "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2" together. They must have bonded. But did they mind-meld, too? They left the barbershop, went out and separately made the same movie for their encore. The same bad movie.

"Are We There Yet?," Ice Cube's latest, is a couple of laughs shy of Cedric's laugh-starved "Johnson Family Vacation." Were they watching "National Lampoon's Vacation" on the "Barbershop" set?

Cube's character drives a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator that gets trashed during the course of the movie. Cedric drove a Navigator knockoff -- also tricked, also trashed.

Add a couple of messy, smart-aleck kids (Aleisha Allen, Philip Bolden) and there's your formula -- adults drive, kids drive adults nuts. Road-tested, Chevy Chase approved.

Ice Cube has let so many of his hard edges melt off that he can't even manage a decent tantrum here. Brats ruin his ride and find new and unoriginal ways to come between him and the woman he wants to impress (Nia Long), and he can only muster a couple of mild oaths and a stomped-on baseball cap.

"Kids, they're like cockroaches," he growls. "Only you can't squish'em."

Go ahead, slap your knees over that one.

He was warned

Ice Cube plays Nick, a Portland sports memorabilia dealer who fancies the single mom (Long) who works across the street. His "player" conscience, a talking bobble-head doll of the great pitcher Satchel Paige, warns him off the single mom pitch. His pals (Jay Mohr among them) say he's trapped in "the Friend Zone" with her. He wants more.

So he takes her kids from Portland to Vancouver where she's working on New Year's Eve. It's a trip of missed planes, missed trains and one messed up automobile. A little vomit, practical jokes involving airline security and truck drivers ... gosh, let's not spoil it.

Director Brian Levant ("Beethoven," "Snow Dogs," "The Flintstones") is the sort of hack who makes one beg for early retirement -- his.

The Satchel Paige doll bit might have been funny. The profane John Witherspoon was originally supposed to do the voice of the legendary pitcher-philosopher. Tracy Morgan, so PG he even had his own TV series, ended up doing the voice. That switch gives away the problem here. Ice Cube is mellower, more of a family guy now. But as the "Friday" movies and "Barbershop" films proved, he needs a funny supporting cast and humor that's a little more risque. The strain of keeping this PG-13 shows.

"I was trying to do you a favor, you little booger!" isn't funny. It's just absurd coming from the mouth of the original NWA.

It's heartening any time somebody attempts to make a "family comedy." But did Cedric and Ice both have to make lame road pictures? Maybe on the set of "Barbershop 3" they could draw straws. Winner gets to move on, loser gets the keys to the Navigator.




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