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.
Jack and Terry (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern) are an unhappy couple stifled by years of sullen barely concealed rage Jack's inertia and Terry's drinking. Their friends Hank and Edith (Peter Krause and Naomi Watts) are similarly miserable with each other which they act out through barely concealed affairs. As Jack and Edith begin their illicit tryst they instinctively seek to pair up Hank and Terry partly to make it easier for them to sneak around but mostly to alleviate their own guilt. So the two couples basically substitute one rut for another wheels spinning in the muddy morass of their own confused attempts at adulthood. Through it all their children become a sort of juvenile Greek chorus for their parents making the kinds of precocious pronouncements that are only uttered from the mouths of screenwriters.
As joyless as the movie is to sit through the acting is brilliant. Krause (Six Feet Under) tosses his nonchalance around as an impenetrable shield caring so little that he's impossible to wound. Ruffalo (Collateral) who is the most (and probably the only) human of the quartet provides the only thing approaching a moral center. And even in this company Dern manages to act circles around them. Her Terry is a definitive portrait of the party girl who finally wakes up hung over one morning only to discover she's got two kids to feed a house to clean and a husband who'd rather talk than make love. To her love means always having to admit you're desperate. So it's sad and chilling to watch her begin her affair with Hank only because in her own twisted way she thinks her husband wants her to.
Watts is still the most compulsively watchable actress working today summoning reserves of inner turmoil on cue and yet always making it look effortless. It is interesting to contrast her role here with her work in the far superior and brilliantly written 21 Grams. Both characters are deeply unhappy people trying to make sense of the cruel world. And yet 21 Grams which is much unhappier and more despondent achieves a sublime grace as each character discovers their humanity in their desperation. In this movie you just hope that at some point the four main characters will jump in an SUV that has faulty brakes.
The two men are college professors and the movie makes the most of that milieu with flirtatious students college bars and long leafy runs providing the backdrop. But most of the movie's plotting feels like its been done on graph paper. Jack and Terry make love. Cut to Hank and Edith making love. Jack talks to his daughter. Cut to Edith talking to her daughter. The rhythm of this duet becomes numbing. The movie is directed by John Curran an Australian making his first American feature. But the impetus for the story comes from screenwriter Larry Gross adapting two short stories by Andre Dubus who wrote In the Bedroom. Dubus' movie characters are all variations on the same emotionally stifled yuppie theme although In the Bedroom saved itself by turning into an old-fashioned revenge melodrama. We Don't Live Here Anymore is one of those movies and there have been oodles where the characters are so inert that the suspense if one can call it suspense is who will act first to break the circle of despair. And so the children of course are trotted out as pawns on the chessboard forcing the kings and queens to choose. I don't know which is more depressing: that this movie cliché has been used so often or that there are undoubtedly thousands of couples in the world who act exactly like this.