NEWS- Not there: New Ice Cube comedy under-done

Known affectionately to critics as "Is It Over Yet?" Are We Done Yet? is a sequel to the minimally amusing 2005 family comedy Are We There Yet? In that one, Ice Cube wooed and won divorcée Nia Long by taking her two intentionally obnoxious kids on a road trip.

Now they're a family. Having bonded with Nick (Cube), the kids have lost their personalities, and having sold his share of his sports store, Nick has shed his partner (Jay Mohr, absent). The next phase of sitcom life consists of building a home together and having more kids.

With so many models to choose from, they could have passed this off as a "new" formula comedy, but it's credited specifically as a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a 1948 Cary Grant-Myrna Loy comedy most fondly remembered by those who haven't seen it in a long time (and previously remade– without credit, I believe– as The Money Pit).

Despite an effort to appear wacky, Cube is mostly just wack, putting the "bland" in "Blandings." Actually Nick's last name is Persons, which reinforces the generic nature of the movie. He's trying to launch a sports magazine, apparently a one-man enterprise, and needs to interview Magic Johnson for his first cover story. (Gee, I wonder who will make a cameo appearance before the picture's over?)

With his entire future (and net worth) hanging in the balance, what better time to buy a "fixer-upper" in the country?

Nick doesn't bother to get the house inspected before he buys it. First he thinks he can fix it himself, but as it falls apart, he's forced to hire a contractor, a trio of Hawaiian dry-rot specialists and some blind plumbers.

One idea that seems clever for a few minutes is having John C. McGinley play a virtual supporting cast. Not that he's more than one character, but that character, Chuck Mitchell Jr., wears many hats.

Chuck is the realtor who sells Nick the house– "I've never seen a more sound home structurally" (he slaps wall, fixture falls loose– you know the bit)– and the city inspector who breaks the news to Nick, post-sale, about its real condition. He's also "the finest contractor in these parts" and, since Suzanne's expecting twins, a part-time midwife. Not to mention having several miscellaneous areas of expertise, including training a dog by speaking to it in German, "the language of discipline."

In his first scene, McGinley comes off as very fruity, as if he came directly from the set of Wild Hogs and didn't have time to change character from the gay trooper. The actor tries to give Chuck a different personality for each of his jobs, but eventually he realizes it's not worth the effort and adopts the most boring persona full-time.

As for the children, who have aged a good two years in the one year that's supposedly elapsed between movies (they grow up so fast these days), Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) is "almost 14" and rapidly becoming a woman. She sneaks off to a party at the Hawaiians' house (one of the guys, Tahj Mowry is the right age for her) where people of all ages are– dancing! The PG rating ensures nothing that would frighten a real parent today ever happens. Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden), presumably still four years younger than his sister, acts like a puppy around Nick and just needs to be taken fishing to seal their bond.

Given the premise, you could write the script yourself, and it would probably be funnier. Heck, this script would be funnier with more inspired direction than what comes from Steve Carr, encoring from Are We There Yet?

Potential gags are set up, then dropped. A "private toilet" is established as Nick's favorite room, then never seen again. A "vicious raccoon" is talked about, then appears once, while other critters (a deer, bats, sturgeon, the family dog) figure in other scenes.

Chuck gives Nick all kinds of Nick-names, including "Nick at Night," but stops short of the self-referential "Nick-er with Attitude" for many reasons.

You can see where the laughs are supposed to go, but unless you're in a crowd desperate to provide them, an occasional giggle is the more likely response. This movie could have used a laugh track.

Are We Done Yet? makes Cheaper by the Dozen, even The Brady Bunch, look edgy by comparison. Shoot, the Persons makes Bill Cosby's Huxtables look like the Manson Family.