Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Nice Cube

When it comes to rappers turned actors, there's Will Smith, and then there's everybody else. (They shouldn't feel bad. Newsweek just named Smith "the new most powerful actor on the planet.") So who's the distant second? Queen Latifah has the Oscar nomination and steady work, but she hasn't carried a movie by herself. Ice-T has found a niche in the Law & Order franchise. Ludacris is coming along slowly in ensembles. Snoop Dogg basically plays a version of himself in featured roles.

What about Ice Cube? He's managed a steady and profitable career as a movie actor since his feature debut as Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood. More importantly, he's had an excellent track record as a producer, becoming a major player in Hollywood. He's already taken three low-budget comedies -- Friday, Barbershop, and Are We There Yet? -- and made them franchises. Barbershop alone generated a sequel, a spinoff film, and a TV show.

In the public eye, he's made the unlikely transformation from N.W.A. member and hardcore soloist (his CD The Predator is a personal favorite) to family man. Nothing about Doughboy prepared me for this career trajectory. And I found it interesting that while Boyz costar Cuba Gooding Jr. peaked in 1996, it's Ice Cube that gets to play the romantic lead opposite Nia Long now.

All of this is a long way of saying that I saw an advanced screening of Are We Done Yet?

While the subject of home improvement falls dangerously into Tim Allen territory, the movie is harmlessly entertaining. Nick Persons (Cube) has married Suzanne (Long), and now his bachelor digs are too small for the family. So they move from Portland to the Oregon countryside and become enamored of a spacious fixer-upper. There they encounter Chuck (John C. McGinley of TV's Scrubs), a jack of all trades who has a weird way of helping out. Humor ensues of the slapstick (but not grossout) variety.

This sequel is also a remake of 1948's Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (written by Melvin Frank & Norman Panama, who, in the small world of Brevity, were previously discussed here). The difference shows; the only common link to Are We There Yet? is the principal cast, and even their relationships have changed. This kind of reinvention bodes well for future installments: you can imagine scribes working on treatments for Are We Home Yet? (vacation gone awry), Are We Rich Yet? (spoiled relatives try to block an inheritance), and Are We Shrek Yet? (magical spell transforms Nick into an ogre).

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