[4 April 2007]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Now, first, the living room. I want it to be a soft green. Not as blue-green as a robin’s egg. But not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow. But don’t let whoever does it get it too blue.
—Muriel Blandings (Myrna Loy), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Are We Done Yet? is “too blue.” A clunky, wrongheaded movie in every way, this sequel to the dreary kids-on-a-road-trip flick, Are We There Yet?, proclaims a (remote) connection to Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). On the surface, the films show plot similarities: a citified husband buys a “fixer-upper” out in the country, whereupon all his efforts turn upside down. In the case of Cary Grant, such shenanigans turned on the contrast between his and costar Myrna Loy’s elegant affects and the oppressively practical house-making details in which they become mired. In the case of Ice Cube, the gags—outsized, tedious, and almost always predictable—miss their marks, if, indeed, they have any.
Picking up after Nick Persons’ (Cube) marriage to Suzanne (Nia Long), Are We Done Yet? shows the wannabe happy unit, including her kids Lindsay (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), crowded into his one-bedroom apartment. Thus you are treated to the requisite fight over the bathroom (14-year-old Lindsay needs extra time to put on her makeup, though she’s apparently able to change from nightclothes to school outfit in about five seconds), foodstuffs falling out of cupboards, and Kevin’s bumping into Nick, resulting in spilled cereal all over his sports jersey. Hard to believe, but this may be the film’s comic highlight, cribbed almost play for play from Blandings (though their crowdedness occurs in the bathroom, while brushing teeth).
For one thing, Suzanne is pregnant with twins. For another thing, Nick’s on a deadline to interview Magic Johnson for his latest business venture, a sports magazine (thoughtfully titled All About Sports), which he apparently plans to edit and publish from home. The Magic interview is crucial, as it’s generated start-up money from a plot device of a company, so Nick needs to focus. Which means he will not.
Instead, Nick and Suzanne haul the kids and their dog out of town with a trailer hitched to his Escalade. Here, as soon as Lindsay complains about the lack of cell phone reception, they buy the first house they see. Shown by the excessively smiley real estate agent and part-time midwife Chuck (John C. McGinley), the place offers up all kinds of clues about its disrepair (or, as Chuck puts it, its need for “just a scooterino of work”). Moved to joyful tears on finding that the master bathroom features a private room for the toilet, Nick ignores the faulty weather-vane and doorknobs, as well as the facts that the house is “a little high-priced” and Chuck is “A little weird,” and plunks down his money. Promising Suzanne that he can “do the fixing,” he proceeds to run into walls, break windows, fall off ladders, and get electrocuted. A showdown with a raccoon who steals his Corn Nuts grants Ice Cube, Mr. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, the opportunity to mutter, “You should know not to mess with a man’s nuts.” I can’t tell you how painful it is.
(L to R) Aleisha Allen, Nia Long, Philip Bolden, and Ice Cube
The inanity of this physical business is only exacerbated by the movie’s dependence on McGinley to deliver most of the broad-comedic goods—he’s a talented guy, but six parts is too much. This because Cube is primarily a straight man—in Friday for Chris Tucker, in Barbershop for Cedric, and in Are We There Yet? for assorted animals—and because McGinley does have range, as well as an apparently endless capacity for punishment. Chuck is the designated threat-to-Nick’s-manhood and resident charlatan who will be redeemed by film’s end. Until that time, he’s not only the real estate agent, but also the contractor, the city inspector, and gadfly, each (literal) change of hat loosing a new personality, all equally grating.
Per formula, Suzanne can’t see the problem, accepting Chuck’s offers to help her through birthing classes and take Kevin fishing (this despite Nick’s early-on assertion that he will learn how to fish so that, he says wistfully, “We can bond like a real family.” The movie lurches from slapstick to fart joke to blind man joke (poor Jacob Vargas plays a sightless plumber whose dropping of pipes provides the movie with a few too many unfunny gags). Wait a beat, and then Nick’s running from a swarm of digital bats emerging from his chimney (kids and Suzanne with mouths agape), the camera’s passing over exposed butt crack of an anonymous construction worker, and the plumber is dropping yet another pipe.
Perhaps the film makes a (positive?) point about the no-turning back diversity of the ruralish burbs, as the new black family is welcomed by a series of multi-colored families all bearing the local prize dish, sturgeon. They have all become alike, even as they are marked differently by accent or dress. Though the neighbors don’t figure much into Nick’s coming to grips wit the house or with Chuck, they do suggest a context—however superficial and unwritten and forgettable—about who gets to build a dream house in the new American Dreamland, however much that flies in the face of the current mortgage crisis.
Utterly unsurprisingly, the pratfalls, collapses, and complaints lead eventually to a life lesson worthy of the film’s PG rating. Voiced more than once so you won’t miss it, the point appears to be this, as phrased by Chuck (in a pique after Nick has fired him—again): “If you can’t see the value of a home as opposed to a house, then maybe I’m not your guy.” Amid all the episodic muddle and din of Are We Done Yet?, you can feel assured of one thing: no one here is your guy.