Are We Done Yet? has the peculiar distinction of being a remake and a sequel, but not a remake of a sequel. Even more confusingly, the film remakes the Cary Grant chestnut Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which has already been remade as The Money Pit, but it’s equally indebted to What About Bob?, another comedy in which a loopy stranger finagles his way into the life of an uptight man, wins over his family, and drives the slow-burning hero insane. Just about the only movie Are We Done Yet? doesn’t resemble is its predecessor, Are We There Yet? and that’s a promising development, as the nicest thing that can be said about the original is that it left ample room for improvement.
Ice Cube returns as a bumbling sports buff saddled with the responsibility of caring for Nia Long’s strong-willed but increasingly absent children. As the film opens, Cube has sold his half of a sports-memorabilia store and plans on opening a sports magazine from rural Oregon, a process the film makes look roughly as difficult as a third-grader’s homework. (Step 1: Write questions for Magic Johnson. Step 2: Ask said questions. Step 3: Buy yourself a high-rise! You’re now bigger than Sports Illustrated!) Cube buys a rickety old mansion from spacey John C. McGinley, a pale-faced mystic with sidelines in everything from baby whispering to power-walking to professional basketball.
In a fresh spin on an old joke, McGinley seemingly occupies every job in town, from building inspector to contractor to midwife. McGinley consequently does double-duty as the cause of, and solution to, all of Ice Cube’s problems. Comedy is largely a matter of choices, and McGinley makes all the right ones, from the middle-age-defying blond highlights to the goofy yet determined strut of his power-walk, which is funnier than every gag in Are We There Yet? combined. Like its predecessor, the sequel eventually devolves into maudlin sentiment, and Johnson’s central presence ensures the most awkward sports cameo since Arli$$ was put out of its misery. But this surprisingly painless sequel actually earns goodwill by being funny, sweet-natured, and likeable. The original marked a nadir in Ice Cube’s ongoing domestication, but here, there’s something strangely charming about the gangsta icon never uttering an invective stronger than “back-talking sass-mouth.” It isn’t gangsta, but it’s winning all the same.