Planes, trains and automobiles apparently aren’t enough anymore.
In straining to wring every imaginable last laugh, the road trip comedy “Are We There Yet?” also trots out a horse, a blinged-out sport utility vehicle and an armada of 18-wheelers driven by misinformed, overzealous truckers.
None of this helps, though, when the passengers of said vehicles are the manipulative, high-maintenance brother-sister duo of Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) and Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden), under the inept, reluctant watch of Nick (Ice Cube), who tolerates them in an effort to woo their exceedingly hot, divorced mother, Suzanne (Nia Long).
Real quick plot set-up (not that it matters, because director Brian Levant’s movie is all about the sight gags): Suzanne is a Portland party planner with a big event scheduled for New Year’s Eve in Vancouver. When her useless ex-husband claims he’s sick and can’t take their kids for the night, Nick, the child-hating bachelor, agrees to drive them up to Vancouver to stay with her.
But 11-year-old Lindsey, the tattletale, and 7-year-old Kevin, who’s asthmatic and has obsessive-compulsive disorder, want their mom to get back together with their dad, and will stop at nothing to dissuade any potential suitors.
So they set out to destroy Nick and his shiny new Lincoln Navigator with tactics that make Macaulay Culkin’s antics in the “Home Alone” movies look humane.
They kick him in the groin. They lock him out of the SUV. Lindsey hijacks it, gets stuck in reverse and crashes into stuff. Kevin spills juice and throws up all over the interior — and almost does worse.
Each of these painfully familiar gross-out jokes is punctuated by an overbearing, jaunty score (though it’s mildly amusing when Kevin asks from the back seat whether Nick has any Justin Timberlake or Clay Aiken to listen to, and is met with the thumping of 50 Cent instead).
And all the hijinks are accompanied by commentary from a talking Satchel Paige bobble head boll, which Nick (the owner of a sports memorabilia store) has mounted on his dashboard. “Saturday Night Live” alum Tracy Morgan provides the voice. He’s not funny, either.
But the script from a team of writers veers into territory that’s not just unfunny, it’s dangerous, when the kids accuse Nick of being a kidnapper just to escape, and truckers gang up on him in an attempt to stop him.
“Are We There Yet?” from director Levant (who previously directed the similarly madcap “Snow Dogs” and “Jingle All the Way”) seems numbingly one-note until it shifts abruptly into a second note that clangs even worse. It tries to be sentimental, with Nick predictably finding himself functioning as a father figure, and all the characters experiencing impossibly well-timed changes of heart.
(Cube even allows himself to crack his trademark scowl for a smile or two while flirting with Long. It fits him worse than his wardrobe of oversized throwback jerseys.)
Kids will laugh at the broad slapstick here, but they deserve better — as do their parents.