The 2005 family road comedy "Are We There Yet?" was not, by any stretch of the interstate or the imagination, a good film.
Yet it held undeniable appeal: Through its tale of a bachelor terrorized, "Home Alone"-style, by two kids, we saw the completion of Ice Cube's slow transformation into Tim Allen.
There also were a few moments when pranks perpetrated by the kids came as a surprise. Such unpredictability is missing from the flat sequel, "Are We Done Yet?" which opens today. Monterrey Bay Aquarium
When now-family man Nick Persons (Ice Cube) steps onto the roof of his crumbling dream house, we know his footing won't be solid for long. When his family, which includes his nemeses-turned-stepchildren, sits down to dinner, it's only a matter of time before the chandelier becomes a side dish.
The slipshod slapstick begins even before Nick, pregnant wife Suzanne (Nia Long) and her kids, Lindsey and Kevin (Aleisha Allen and Philip Daniel Bolden), move to the suburbs. A morning of family high jinks in Nick's now-cramped bachelor pad will leave him, quite literally, with egg on his face.
"Are We Done Yet?" is labored in origin as well as in execution, with credits that would take a crane to lift. Directed by Steve Carr, the film is a sequel but also based on the 1948 Cary Grant film "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," already evoked by the Tom Hanks comedy "The Money Pit."
In accommodating its construction-nightmare premise, the film practically abandons the family angle. Long's character, who showed verve as a working single mom in the first film, comes off here as alternately unsupportive and clueless.
Suzanne seems fine, for instance, with having to track down Nick at a bar to show him a sonogram photo. Given that he works at home on his own magazine, Nick could have found the time to accompany his wife to the doctor's office.
The kids barely factor into the story once the family makes its move. Nick is too consumed with noise being made by construction crews to bond with Kevin, and the now-teenage Lindsey spends her time on the phone with friends back in the city.
Though gorgeous on the surface, the family's huge, late-19th-century home shows signs of big trouble from Day One. After Nick fails in an attempt to do his own repairs, he calls Chuck Mitchell (John C. McGinley), the local real estate guy, contractor and midwife.
This ethically dubious Chuck-of-all-trades vexes Nick to no end. Yet their relationship is the only one in the film with even a hint of arc.
McGinley, from NBC's "Scrubs," is a stalwart comic actor who never makes a false move onscreen. Unfortunately, his fine work is wasted in films such as this one and "Wild Hogs."
Though this is ostensibly a family film, it's hard to imagine kids being fascinated by all the construction talk. Even the charismatic Tahj Mowry, as a local boy who makes the suburbs look a little brighter to Lindsey, can't offset a subplot about dry rot.
Playing a character who is often frustrated or stressed out keeps Cube in dour mode for most of the picture. But he's winning in a scene in which Nick discovers, upon first touring the house, that the bathroom contains a private toilet stall.
As Nick imagines the possibilities, Ice Cube's face lights up in wonder. In most films, a bathroom-related joke would represent the lowest form of humor. In this one, it's a highlight.
*1/2 out of four stars.