No boyz allowed

Staff WriterJanuary 21, 2005 

Philip Daniel Bolden, left, Ice Cube and Aleisha Allen star in this squeaky clean, and predictable, family dramedy. Has Ice Cube morphed into a thin Sinbad?

Well, Ice Cube has finally done it. He has starred in a movie that just shaves the edge right off a brotha.

Just when rap fans were beginning to worry about his street cred when he appeared all paternal and non-threatening in those "Barbershop" movies, Cube goes full-tilt cute and cuddly in the rude-crude family flick "Are We There Yet?" Watching the you-know-what you love to hate go the Sinbad route in order to appeal to mainstream audiences is enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the hardest straight-gangsta mack.

A movie that basically jacks from "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," "Dutch" and the late comedian Robin Harris' "Bebe's Kids" routine (which some of you may remember they made a cartoon movie out of), the hysterically infuriating "There" has Cube playing a bachelor sports-collectible vendor with a tricked-out Navigator, a wardrobe mostly consisting of ball caps and jerseys and a hatred for kids.

This playa finds himself pursuing a gorgeous divorcee (Nia Long, playing it clueless and high-maintenance), despite the fact she has two kids of her own -- 11-year-old know-it-all Lindsey (Aleisha Allen, of "School of Rock") and 7-year-old hypochondriac Kevin (Phillip Daniel Bolden). Lemme tell you right now, these bad seeds make the kids from "The Bernie Mac Show" look like the von Trapp kids. Eager to keep their mother single in the hopes she'll reunite with their dad, the pair make life miserable for our poor hero during a road trip in which he has to drive the kids to Vancouver (mom is working an out-of-town gig there).

For "There," star/co-producer Cube joined forces with director Brian Levant ("Jingle All The Way," "Snow Dogs") for a kid-friendly flick that's predictably filled with gross-out gags, cartoonish, borderline-sadistic slapstick and forced, heartwarming moments. (It doesn't take long for Cube's character to warm up to the little rascals and start referring to them as his own.) You also have Tracy Morgan showing up as the voice of a Satchel Paige bobble-head doll that bobs on Cube's dashboard. (I'm pretty sure Paige would have been just tickled to know his legacy as a trailblazing ballplayer is being immortalized in this manner.)

I know, I know, this movie isn't for me. It's for the kids -- but the kids deserve better. However, "There" also delivers something even more unsettling. It shows audiences that Cube could head down the same kid-pandering, creativity-stifling path Eddie Murphy is currently lost and delirious on. There may still be hope for Cube, though. He is a rapper who can still manage to turn out some noteworthy performances in movies when he wants to ("Boyz N The Hood," "Three Kings"). And besides, this is the same man who once slammed sellout rappers in the 1991 tune "True to the Game." So I'm sure someone will remind him of that song the minute he starts to get too chesty.

Older audiences may get an unintentional kick out of watching "There" in a theater with kids. Just think about it: Little ones all over the country will be sitting in auditoriums, completely unaware that the man they're laughing at on-screen once composed a song in which he graphically said his former N.W.A. bandmates were getting, shall we say, sexually violated by shady partners. And you know what? That one thought is more entertaining than anything that goes on in this movie.

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

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