ARE WE DONE YET? (Steve Carr, 2007)
In ARE WE DONE YET? newly married Nick Persons (Ice Cube) finds that his condo doesn't have enough room for everyone. His wife Suzanne (Nia Long), stepkids Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), and their dog Coco are too many bodies to squeeze into his former bachelor pad. That's before he learns that Suzanne is pregnant with twins.
Nick realizes that married life means making some changes. He sells his partial ownership in a sports memorabilia shop so he can work from home on a start-up sports magazine. OK, so maybe entering the publishing world with its high rate of attrition isn't the wisest decision, but it would probably be smart to trade the hustle and bustle of life in downtown Portland for a bucolic home, right?
The Persons find their potential dream house: five bedrooms, four bathrooms (including a master bath larger than a studio apartment), a guest cottage that can double as Nick's home office, and an apple orchard. Nick falls over himself--and the roof's railing--to tell realtor Chuck Mitchell Jr. (John C. McGinley) that they'll take it.
The house is something of a fixer upper, but Nick is sure that he can handle whatever work needs to be done. If not, he'll get plenty of practice. The electrical wiring and plumbing need to be overhauled, the walls have dry rot, the floor is infested with termites, and the foundation must be replaced, to name a few necessary improvements. To add insult to injury, the raccoons keep taking his corn nuts.
No one will mistake Ice Cube's comic timing for Cary Grant's, but this remake of the 1948 RKO comedy MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE is a moderately amusing family film, if not a terribly inspired one. Nick's apopleptic reactions to the escalating repair costs and his exasperation with Chuck, the local Mr. Everything (contractor, inspector, and midwife, among other things), features some of the film's best moments. McGinley works overtime to mold Chuck into a curly redheaded sweetheart that Nick's family adores and who is a good guy by all appearances. He invests Chuck with irrepressible enthusiasm, which naturally causes Nick's temper to flare more. The downside is Cube is too lacking in energy to match McGinley's go-for-broke performance, which is like something out of a cartoon.
McGinley's endearingly manic turn fits with the film's live-action cartoon style. A hooked sturgeon pulls Kevin across the surface of a pond like a skipping stone. Surprised animals react with spoken exclamations. A bird of prey plucks a chipmunk out of Nick's hand in the film's best sight gag. Even the opening and ending are animated. The zanier elements aren't always successful. Too many times something is thrown out of frame and followed by a "funny" sound effect. I can't decide if the blind plumbers are in bad taste or not.
ARE WE DONE YET? is certainly a substantial improvement over ARE WE THERE YET? The children were actively malicious in the original but take a break from tormenting Nick in the sequel. They do some sassing, but it's nothing like the gleeful meanness they indulged (and which was implicitly endorsed) in the first film. Parents weary of scatological humor in family movies can take comfort in its near absence in ARE WE DONE YET? There are no kicks to the crotch, which I thought were legislated joke requirements for films of this ilk.
Following the lead of its halfhearted star, ARE WE DONE YET? feels like it is going through the motions. Some jokes hit their marks, even if they are long past their originality expiration dates. It's not a bad film, just a stale one. Families could do worse than to spend an hour and a half at ARE WE DONE YET? (For starters, they could watch its predecessor.) They could also do better.