Starting near the end of his short 24-year life and then told in flashback this film version of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s (Jamal Woolard) rapid rise from the streets of Brooklyn to fame is told in standard-issue Hollywood biopic style. We see this Catholic honors student (played by his real life son Christopher Jordan Wallace) become a teenage drug dealer and accidental father before a chance recording finds its way to Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) who engineers an almost immediate rise to fame fortune -- and trouble. “Biggie” now must juggle his newfound recording career a marriage to fellow artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) his romantic encounters with female rap comer L’il Kim (Naturi Naughton) and a major East Coast/West Coast rivalry with Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) that leads to tragedy for both. As Wallace Brooklyn rapper Woolard is almost indistinguishable from the real man himself. He’s completely convincing performing B.I.G’s biggie hits and proves himself to be a first-rate dramatic actor as well -- at least in a story like this that he can clearly relate to. As his mother Angela Bassett makes the most of limited screen time (despite top billing) and expertly conveys the angst of a parent fighting a losing battle for her son. Luke again shows why he is so promising playing Puffy with just the right amount of flash and supreme confidence. Unfortunately the “balanced” portrait of Combs and many others in B.I.G’s life is tainted by the fact this film was produced by some of the real life players including his managers mother and executive producer Combs. George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) directs this by-the-numbers account of Biggie’s life in a style we have seen countless times before. Except for a couple of occasions he doesn’t even let the rap sequences play out to give us an idea of how this guy whose songs reflected his rough Brooklyn lifestyle could climb to the top so fast. Whatever was special is lost in what appears to be a brazen attempt to sell soundtrack albums.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A man rushes into buying the perfect house in the suburbs so he can raise his family. Only he soon discovers he’s overpaid for a death trap that will require big bucks to renovate. Yes Are We Done Yet? is another remake of Cary Grant’s 1948 classic comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. While the prospect of Ice Cube stuck in a house of horrors seems like an appropriate way to trump the road trip from hell that was Are We There Yet? this sequel isn’t an upgrade on Tom Hanks’ 1986 Blandings redo The Money Pit. But that won’t matter to the kids who laughed at the slow and painful destruction of Ice Cube’s beloved SUV. Now they’ll squeal with delight as Ice Cube—finally married to Nia Long who’s pregnant with his twin babies—tries to replace the leaky roof he’s put over the heads of his ungrateful stepchildren (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden). “I can fix that ” Ice Cube says after breaking something. Too bad no one took a crack at fixing a script that fails to puts a modern-day spin on the suburban angst Cary Grant endured 60 years ago. As a founding member of 1980s gangsta rap group N.W.A. Ice Cube made his bones scaring the living daylight out of white middle-class Americans. Now he’s entertaining their grandkids with innocuous family-friendly farces that once were Eddie Murphy’s bread and butter. You can’t blame Ice Cube for building upon his comedy franchises Barbershop and Friday especially as he’s failed in his bid to be an action hero. But unlike The Pacifier which Vin Diesel employed to poke fun at his tough-guy image this kid-conscious franchise makes Ice Cube look softer than a life-size teddy bear. Sure he’s man enough to more of a beating than he did the first time out as Nick Persons but the scowling Ice Cube looks as uncomfortable bearing the brunt of these Home Alone-style humiliations as he does working with children and animals. Not so with John C. McGinley the film’s lone source of amusement. He seems thrilled to be out of his doctor Scrubs and hamming it up as a happy-go-lucky man of many hats including realtor construction manager and midwife. Speaking of giving birth Nia Long doesn’t have anything to do other than to exude the glow of an expectant mother. Unfortunately Long’s onscreen kids Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden don’t have much to do either. They were the driving force behind Ice Cube’s road rage in Are We There Yet? Now they barely get up to any mischief. And the better behaved they are the less enjoyable Are We Done Yet? is. Are We Done Yet? began life as a Blandings remake before Ice Cube et al. retooled it as this plain and predictable sequel. So that may explain why Allen and Bolden are no longer the cause of Ice Cube’s physical abuse. That’s a shame as the antagonistic relationship they once shared made Are We There Yet? somewhat tolerable. Director Steve Carr clearly has no interest in exploring Ice Cube’s new role as a stepfather not even if it results in more concussions. Then again Carr’s there to merely serve as a one-man wrecking crew. He dutifully tears down Ice Cube’s house but he doesn’t do it with much panache or originality. You just know Ice Cube will hit rock bottom when he tries to fall asleep while rain pours through his roofless house. At least Carr—who also directed such mediocre sequels as Dr. Dolittle 2 and Ice Cube’s Next Friday—has the good sense not to bring back the Tracy Morgan-voiced Satchel Paige bobblehead doll from Are We There Yet? And he does wrap up the proceedings with a welcome nod to the chaos Ice Cube endured on that long drive. Still by the time Ice Cube steps foot in the dream house he’s built you’re hoping that the trials and tribulations of his battered and bruised Nick Persons are indeed over and done with.
September 16, 2005 5:05am EST
The socially inept Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor who never leaves the hospital. Her married sister Abby (Dina Waters) tries in vain to set up with a good man to no avail. But fate is about to intervene. On her way home from a long shift Elizabeth gets into a head-on collision with a semi-truck and suddenly the lines between life and death are blurred. Jumping forward we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) a guy wallowing in self-pity from the death of his wife two years earlier who to find some solitude moves into a fabulous furnished apartment. What he doesn't know is the previous tenant hasn't left not really. That's right it was Elizabeth's apartment and for whatever reason (seriously they don't entirely explain it) Elizabeth--or her spirit I guess--hasn't grasped the idea that she is in well limbo. Only David can see her of course as she yells at him for leaving sweat rings on the coffee table but Elizabeth eventually grows on him. She elicits his help in finding out what happened to her and with a little help from the eccentric Darryl (Jon Heder) a bookstore employee who has the gift for sensing spirits David and Elizabeth find that heaven and earth are not really that far apart.
As our romantic pair Witherspoon and Ruffalo do an adequate job adhering to the staid romantic comedy formula. Witherspoon is one of the more consistent comedic actresses these days and has the sweet but controlling ingénue routine down to a science. But it may be time for her to take a break from the standard fare and head back to the indies getting down and dirty like she did in Election. Ruffalo does a pretty impressive job for his second time as the romantic lead. As he did with 13 Going on 30 Ruffalo at least tries to add some quirky twists to a boring character. Still he should also probably stick to showcasing his dramatic acting talent in cool indies much like he did in You Can Count on Me. It's Heaven's side characters who have all the fun. Waters (The Haunted Mansion) does a nice turn as the caring sister who's own hectic life as a mother of two rambunctious kids always seems to interfere with what she's doing. Donal Logue (TV's Grounded For Life) as David's therapist best friend too has a fun time yuking it up. But the real standout in an otherwise dull universe is Napoleon Dynamite himself Jon Heder in his second feature film. He's still a geek but at least this time he's a mystical one who knows a thing or two about wandering spirits. Of course he also gets the best lines: "I'm 99.9 percent parched here. I need a cola." I'm going to use that one from now on.
As the director of the satirical Mean Girls and the cutesy Freaky Friday Mark Waters may be out of his element with an out and out romantic comedy. The initial idea about a women whose stuck in the spirit world until she finds the true love she never sought after in life is somewhat intriguing. But rather than play with that the film just ends up your standard romantic comedy while also stealing from other films such as Ghost and The Sixth Sense. Just Like Heaven also has some serious logistical flaws. For example seeing how Elizabeth is supposed to be a ghost--that she can't touch anything tangible and can walk through walls tables and just about anything else--she is later seen laying on top of a table. It doesn't make sense as to how she can walk through it at one moment and be on it the next. And the fact you are paying attention to these inconsistencies means you just aren't caring that much about the rest of the film.