Robert Benchley once wrote, “There are two kinds of travel, first class and with children.” But the longest, naggiest, car-sickiest travel with children cannot be any more tedious than this weak and dragged-out generic fluff that wastes the talents of four performers who should know better.
There are about three good minutes of material in this film, all of which appear in the trailer. To put it in terms appropriate for the subject matter, the film has some long, dull stretches between rest stops. The movie is not as amusing as a good game of license plate bingo.
Ice Cube plays Nick, a playa who thinks his life is mighty fine until he catches a look at the luscious Suzanne (Nia Long), who works across the street from his Portland, Oregon sports memorabilia shop. He tries to resist when he finds out that she has two children, but when he rescues her on a rainy night after her car breaks down and she knows the stats on his favorite player, Satchel Paige, he’s a goner. Even though he does not like children, he will do anything to get close to her.
Suzanne needs someone to take her children to Vancouver on New Year’s Eve, and after they get into trouble at the airport and miss the train, Nick has to drive them in his beloved and pristine new SUV. When I say you know where this is going, I don’t mean Vancouver.
Yes, everything goes wrong, from an encounter with a kick-boxing deer to projectile vomit. And those are the funny parts, or they are supposed to be, anyway.
Even worse are the touching parts, or the parts that are supposed to be. Nick and the kids have to find some way to like each other, right? Isn’t that the whole point of a road movie, that point at which the people who don’t know each other or know each other and don’t like each other develop some (usually-grudging) respect for one another and begin to bond? This aspect of the movie is not just unimaginative and tedious; it is so insincere and condescending that it is affirmatively unpleasant. And then, to add insult to injury, the movie indulges in that most unjustifiable of offenses — the mini-retrospective flashback of purported highlights to re-remind us of how hollow it all really is.
It’s a shame to see the beautiful and talented Nia Long, most recently so impressive in her brief role in Alfie given so little to do — and forced to sport such an awful hairdo. Ice Cube seems to enjoy his interaction with his young co-stars but never seems fully engaged. Even with the voice of Tracey Morgan, the talking Satchel Paige bobblehead is tiresome. The performer who comes across the best is Aleisha Allen (of School of Rock), who has a fresh and appealing presence.
Parents should know that the movie has quite a bit of crude humor and some strong language for a PG. There is a lot of comic cartoon-style violence, including hits in the crotch, played for comedy. Some viewers may be upset by brief shots of a dead deer. And some may be disturbed by the portrayal of absent fathers.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Kevin and Lindsey tried to sabotage her dates and what made Nick begin to feel some sympathy and respect for the children. They may also want to talk about some of their own car trips and what kinds of things families can do to make sure that the trips are enjoyable for everyone. Families should also take a look at Satchel Paige‘s famous rules for staying young:
Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society — the social ramble ain’t restful.
Avoid running at all times.
And don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.
Families with older children who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing Nia Long in Big Mama’s House, Aleisha Allen in School of Rock and Ice Cube in Barbershop (all PG-13). Mature audiences will enjoy seeing him in the R-rated Three Kings and Boyz N the Hood.