Are We There Yet?

(Brian Levant, USA, 2005)


For a change, the trailer for Are We There Yet? promises exactly what the film delivers.


It is a very physical comedy in which Nick (Ice Cube), in order to impress the lovely Suzanne (Nia Long), offers to transport her two kids, Lindsey (Aleisha Allen from School of Rock, 2003) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), across country.


But these kids are dead-set against their Mom getting a new husband, so they ensure that Nick’s journey is hell. Burning through various, quickly discarded modes of travel – train, horse, foot – the film reserves its greatest catastrophes for the love of Nick’s life: his flashy new Lincoln Navigator.


Ice Cube, previously well known as a singer, is one of those actor-producers who, in his own quiet way, has risen almost to the status of a shadow auteur in the mainstream American film industry. His sensibility drives the Friday  and Barbershop  series of films, with their digressive, amiable humour and gently satirical observation of socio-cultural trends.


Are We There Yet? is a slightly different affair. Most of its characters are black, and much of its comedy depends on standard stereotypes of African-American behaviour – such as Nick’s overweening pride over the “material object” of his car.


But this movie is shooting for the white market too, so the more specialised cultural and political references that litter a film like Barbershop are here traded for safe homages to Aretha Franklin and the legendary baseball star Satchel Paige (voiced by comedian Tracy Morgan).


Director Brian Levant has juggled this combo of kids, sentiment and burlesque mayhem before in Problem Child 2 (1991). After guiding Cuba Gooding Jr in the enjoyable  Snow Dogs (2002), he also seems to have been pegged as the guy who can best blend elements of America’s often segregated black and white cultures in the one movie. Hence the rather superfluous presence of Nick’s would-be bro and all-round adviser, Marty (Jay Mohr), plus a host of white guys who at first seem threatening but end up benign.


This is a simple movie that swiftly avoids the complications of really thinking through what extended families are in the modern world (the demonising of the kids’ biological father is rather expedient), and which engineers the moral transformation of its hero without too much fuss.


There is also a very strange Takeshi Kitano-like bit of business concern the apparition of the new family: a rather simplistic version of the extended-family question, reduced to the sheer irresponsibility of the errant African-American male.


But, for most of its ride, Are We There Yet? is highly enjoyable fare.

© Adrian Martin March 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search