In the decade since he arrived in Hollywood, Ice Cube has played all kinds of cops, thugs, soldiers, and barbers. He even directed a movie about a strip club that's fondly thought of as the black ''Showgirls." But perhaps sensing that it might be time to do a movie he could watch with his own children, the rapper finally made himself a nice family comedy.
Whether ''Are We There Yet?" which he produced, will melt the lil' Cubes remains to be seen, but this gnarly and illogical little sitcom is bound to make any adult reconsider that next outing with the kids.
Cube plays Nick Parsons, the owner of a sports memorabilia store in Portland, Ore., and he can't stand children, especially the ones that come attached to cute bachelorettes. But he battles his disdain when he meets a single mother of two named Suzanne; since she's played by Nia Long you can understand his willingness to compromise. But you can't entirely grasp how this levelheaded woman could produce a pair of children as super-obnoxious as Lindsey and Kevin (the dangerously spunky Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden), whom Nick not inaccurately calls ''gremlins."
Suzanne's kids are so convinced that their father will rejoin their big happy home that they turn terrorist on their mother's new prospects, subjecting them to bruising contraptions thatwouldn't be out of place in ''Home Alone 12."
''I feel sorry for the next sucker that tries to put the moves on her," says Kevin's big sister. So do we, Lindsey, so do we -- though not as sorry as anyone who sticks around for the ensuing kicks to the crotch, projectile vomit, feigned asthma attacks, faked kidnappings, gassy old ladies, and a belligerent computer-enhanced deer.
There's also a terrifying scene in which Kevin urinates on a woman in a ladies public restroom, and one scarier in which Lindsey gets her hands on a live microphone and belts out a version of ''Respect" that could be sold as a car alarm.
All this foulness arises after Suzanne's ex-husband cancels their arrangement for him to bring the kids to Vancouver. She's an events coordinator and has to be there for New Year's. Dad is out, but St. Nick is in.
Of course, getting Lindsey and Kevin north of the border proves a nightmare. After being evicted from the airport (Kevin slips a pocket knife into Nick's coat), then missing the train (Kevin hops off to fetch a missing cape for his superhero toy), Nick dares drive them in his brand new Lincoln Navigator. Lining the interior with plastic and barking commandments -- don't touch the SUV, don't eat in the SUV, and so on -- is merely an invitation to destroy it.
It took four writers and director Brian Levant, who also made ''Jingle All the Way," ''The Flintstones," and ''Snow Dogs," to come up with this cartoon. Yet despite its faults, ''Are We There Yet?" is the rare movie to acknowledge the vast bandwidth of African-American identity, which extends out of the ghetto and into the suburbs and the middle class. Both kids have an allergic reaction to the music of hip-hop roughneck 50 Cent. ''I'd give him a dollar to shut up," Lindsey snipes. Kevin prefers Clay Aiken, and Nick bemoans that both children are ''ethnically challenged."
The film also has an asset in Ice Cube. He's so genuinely good with the effortless Long that you wish the two would just run off and make a real adult romantic comedy. Then again -- if you've been waiting to see the ex-NWA rapper throw tantrums and stick his tongue out at small children -- run, don't walk.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.