The rapper displays his paternal side in 'Are We There Yet?'
By CHRIS HEWITT
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Will the real Ice Cube please stand up?
Early Cube fans knew him from the hip-hop collective N.W.A. and such songs as "Gangsta Gangsta." That was 16 years ago, though, and since then, he has built a more-than-one-page acting r & eacute;sum & eacute;, with roles in "Boyz n the Hood" and "Barbershop."
His latest is "Are We There Yet?" which opens Friday and could not be less like N.W.A. Instead of singing about boosting cars, the movie has more to do with fitting car seats into them. Cube plays a small-business owner trying to impress a foxy neighbor by hauling her bratty kids from Portland to Vancouver.
Although he's still making music -- he released "The Predator" two years ago, and that's him glowering at the camera behind Beyonce's hair extensions in the new Destiny's Child video, "Soldier" -- he acknowledges that the guy trying to silence the kids in the back seat is much closer to who he is: a 35-year-old father of four who has been married for 12 years.
Art mimics life
"I thought people would get a kick out of seeing me with kids," said Cube, who cheerfully spent a day in the Twin Cities chatting about "Are We There Yet?" "I have four kids (ranging in age from 4 to 18), so I have seen every family movie made. I know the good ones like 'Home Alone' and 'Finding Nemo,' and I know the ones you let your kids watch while you sleep in the theater."
Cube's familiarity with family-film pros and cons ("I don't want to dis anybody, but I slept through 'Lemony Snicket'") came in handy when his company was putting together "Are We There Yet?"
"The last thing I wanted to do was make another sappy kids' movie," said Cube (born O'Shea Jackson, he's now legally Mr. Cube). "That's why we hired the guy who made his living directing children's movies like 'Beethoven' and 'Jingle All the Way.' That's why we worked on the family message, so you feel it but you don't feel like you're being beat over the head with it."
They were determined to keep the movie on the right side of the schmaltz line, but Cube said there was also discussion about making sure it wasn't too hard-core: "We had a lot of debate about -- let's see, I want to be specific here -- we talked about whether it was OK for kids to be shown driving cars and hopping on trains, since we want to make sure we're not setting a bad example for kids."
Yup, the guy who once sang "Get Off My D*** and Tell Yo B**** to Come Here" is now worrying about the effects of movies on children. And about making sure his movie gets marketed to all audiences, not just black audiences. And about what to do when you're sitting in a car with two child actors, dripping with puke.
"It wasn't real. It was this concoction of Fruit Loops and Karo syrup mixed with tomato paste. But the kids treated it like it was real vomit," said Cube of the horror involved in shooting a carsickness scene. "They didn't want no part of it. They wouldn't touch anything in the car. But the props people are taking pieces of it and throwing it at us, so the kids are screaming, 'It touched me. I got some on my head. Ewwww!"'
Acting doors open
The good news is that Cube was getting hurl hurled at him on the set of his biggest movie. "Are We There Yet?" cost $50 million, a budget that signals his transition from an actor with a following to an actor who can open a movie.
"We're breaking a lot of the Hollywood rules," he said. "This is a big-budget family movie with an almost all-black cast. That doesn't happen unless it's Eddie Murphy in it."
But Murphy has no movies coming out this year, and red-hot Ice Cube has three. In addition to "Are We There Yet?" he stars in the action films "XXX: State of the Union" and "The Extractors."
Cube also has had his share of disappointment -- he auditioned for, but did not get, a role in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Day," and he was a finalist for the Laurence Fishburne role in "The Matrix" -- but Hollywood isn't hating on him anymore.
"For me, personally, after 'Barbershop,' a door flew open in Hollywood. I have been in a lot of movies, but, without the success of 'Barbershop,' you wouldn't be seeing me in a family movie. Those people in Hollywood put a lot of effort into projections like, 'If he's never had a success in a PG-13 movie, can we put him in one?'" said Cube.
The answer now is yes. And maybe the answer to the Ice Cube riddle is that he's not the angry hip-hop guy or the happy-go-lucky star of the PG-rated "Are We There Yet?" He's both and neither, since they're just two of the many characters he has played.