Are We Done Yet? (Columbia, 4.4) is a cretinous family comedy about an idiot father (Ice Cube) going through hell as he tries to fix up a huge ramshackle mansion that he’s bought in some far-off Oregon country town while his wife (Nia Long) goes “now, now” and his two totally contemptible asshole kids smirk and giggle as he howls and screams and falls through roofs and gets electrocuted. It’s an African-American Money Pit with fewer brain cells.
Aleisha Allen, Nia Long, Philip Bolden, Ice Cube in Are We Done Yet?
I knew going in that Are We Done Yet? would be a downmarket horror, but I went to see it last night (i.e., at a promotional screening in Culver City) because the makers are claiming that it’s based upon Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, the sophisticated 1948 Cary Grant-Myrna Loy comedy written by Norman Pan- ama and Melvin Frank, and I wanted to note the similarities. (Would there be a sardonic Melvyn Douglas character who flirts with Long, etc.?)
It turns out there are maybe five or six elements that link this godawful metaphor about the devolution of the human brainpan with the Grant-Loy movie, but they’re so marginal that the Ice Cube flick could just as easily be “based” on Ben-Hur or A Nightmare on Elm Street or Jersey Girl.
To call Are We Done Yet? not funny is like saying that a 12 year-old kid afflicted with Down’s Syndrome probably won’t be hired as a CEO of some Fortune 500 company when he turns 21.
As directed by Steve Carr and written by Hank Nelken, it’s basically about the joy of watching a proverbial dad type put through all kinds of agony and humiliation because he can be something of an arrogant fool. I recognize that the term “family comedy” these days means “comedy aimed at obese 10 year-olds with huge monthly cell-phone bills who are having trouble graduating from the fourth grade,” but there is nothing — zilch — in this movie that rings any kind of truth bell. It is haphazard idiot bullshit from start to finish.
Cary Grant (r.), Myrna Loy (center) in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
I’m sorry to be the pain-in-the-ass sorehead, but nothing in a comedy is funny unless you recognize some aspect of a personal experience (or that of a family member or close friend) in the gags or the writing. The story has to faintly resem- ble life as it is actually experienced outside the walls of a megaplex in order for anyone of any intelligence to laugh at the twists and turns and pratfalls. Otherwise, it’s just crap being thrown at the wall.
And Are We Done Yet? isn’t even a good Tom & Jerry cartoon. The adventures of Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner are like a Tom Stoppard play compared to this.
Hostility towards damn-fool dads isn’t the whole thematic ballgame. Are We Done Yet? is also about local yokels flim-flamming the city slicker and picking his pockets. It’s also about the fear and loathing of nature. All of the CG-enhanced animals in this film are hostile and predatory and bare their fangs. The underlying message is basically that you don’t want to get close to nature. Just stay safe and chillin’ in your bedroom with your universal remote and your i-Pod and your unlaced homie shoes and you be fine.
The work and money particulars are mind-bending. Ice Cube’s character has some money because he sold his share in some kind of Portland bar/restaurant. As the film begins he’s not only supporting Long and her kids with this nest egg but also funding a start-up sports magazine (not an online thing but an actual paper-and-ink thing). The start-up alone is a hugely expensive proposition. Magazine often take two or three years to show a profit. But we don’t want to deal with any of this because we’re just making a stupid movie and nobody gives a damn.
Nonetheless, Ice is also able to afford the fixer-upper that causes all the pain — a massive 19th Century lakeside mansion with all kinds of acreage and a second cottage on the grounds. It’s probably located less than an hour from their former home in Portland because Ice Cube would have to commute there frequently in order to afford to publish his new sports magazine and manage his staff, but even in the far-out boonies the house would have to cost, bare minimum, $750 grand (and probably a lot more). So the guy has to be holding at least a million liquid, and yet he balks at paying a local shyster electrician $8 grand for a re-wiring of the house.
You sit there staring at the screen and you feel dead inside, and then you feel poisoned and you realize you’ve been reborn except you’re losing your mind. Ice Cube got paid a lot of money for doing this thing but you’re just sitting there.
25 or more years ago Andrew Sarris wrote that “the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies.” Now the roof is gone also and the walls have collapsed, and makers of mainstream family comedies have thrown in the towel and said “if it makes money, we don’t care!…the family-audience laser-brains out there loved Are We There Yet? so what do you want us to do…not make more money?” And so the movies they’re making radiate a terrible odiousness…a kind of soul-rupturing stupidity…not just unfunny but suffocating in ways you wouldn’t think possible.
If I were the corpse of either Norman Panama or Melvin Frank, I would crack open my coffin, claw my way up through the dirt like Uma Thurman did in Kill Bill, and then walk zombie-style through Beverly Hills in the wee hours of the night until I found the homes of Joe Roth, whose Revolution Pictures produced this thing, and Are We Done Yet? producer Todd Garner. What I would do next is best imagined instead of described.