It’s a measure of how far hip-hop has come that Ice Cube—the iconic hip-hop agitator who once claimed that “I didn’t even have to use my A.K./Today was a good day”—now headlines Are We There Yet?, a pleasantly toothless family comedy in which the once hard-hitting lyricist goes slapstick silly with a couple of cute kids. Whether Cube’s ascendancy to mainstream movie stardom signifies his sell-out or white America’s increasing acceptance of hip-hop—it’s likely both—the fact remains that the gangsta rapper-turned-thespian’s latest is the type of fluff usually reserved for the likes of Tim Allen or a post-Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy.
Cube plays Nick Persons, a sports collectibles store owner attempting to woo Nia Long’s hot single mother Suzanne. The foxy Suzanne thinks Nick’s sparkly diamond chains and sports jerseys are warning signs that he’s too immature to be dependable boyfriend material, and her fears are confirmed when the kid-hating Nick fails to remember her daughter and son’s names. Vainly attempting a guess at this critical query, Nick blurts out “Rudy and Theo?,” a fitting reference given that Brian Levant’s comedy exhibits The Cosby Show‘s dedication to depicting middle-class African-Americans as a commonplace phenomenon rather than an atypical sight.
Unfortunately, unlike Cosby’s groundbreaking ‘80s sitcom—which exhibited a reverence for African-Americans’ political, social, and artistic achievements—this Ice Cube vehicle (written by Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem, and David N. Weiss) treats black culture as merely superficial window-dressing for its race-neutral narrative, a fact most glaringly seen in the reductive portrait of Negro Leagues pitching great Satchel Paige as a cute, wisecracking bobblehead (voiced by Tracy Morgan) who functions as Nick’s Id. Nick’s immaturity is grounded in his affection for hip-hop flashiness (jewelry, clothing, the extravagant new Lincoln Navigator he’s just purchased), and his maturation is ultimately achieved through rejecting such supposedly juvenile interests for familial responsibility during his journey to transport troublesome Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden) from Portland, Oregon to their mom in Vancouver.
Yet more Clay Aiken bland than 50 Cent fabulous, this mildly agreeable story—despite some amusing gags involving bodily fluids—predominantly exemplifies Cube’s radical rejection of his music persona’s race-conscious antagonism for middle-of-the-road mildness. Watching the affable Cube struggle with Suzanne’s two uncooperative kids, determined to employ every Home Alone trick in the book to keep their mom single so she can one day reconcile with their absentee father, is to witness a once-insolent firebrand become willingly co-opted by Hollywood’s flavorless family film-manufacturing machine.