Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer) an insurance agent thinks it would be a great idea to take his estranged wife and three children to his family reunion in Missouri by car from California. Nate's motives are sincere enough: He is separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) who has custody of teenagers Nikki (Solange Knowles) DJ (Bow Wow) and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) and hopes the road trip will help them bond as a family and with any luck re-ignite that loving feeling with the mother of his children. But everything that can go wrong does even before the trip begins. Nate brings his SUV into the shop to have an 8-track tape player installed in order to listen to his old Motown classics but what he gets is something straight out of MTV's Pimp My Ride although not even West Coast Customs would do something this gaudy. Off they go in their Burberry-outfitted low-rider Lincoln Navigator complete with four TVs and 26-inch Spinners. Vehicle with up-to-the-minute gadgetry notwithstanding the Johnsons encounter every clichéd road trip disaster including running out of gas and needing a pay phone. It's hard to figure out what's more trite--the journey to Missouri or what happens when they actually get there.
Cedric the Entertainer's trademark observational comedy which made him stand out as a cast member of The Steve Harvey Show simply isn't enough to carry an entire film. Cedric is truly the only funny thing Johnson Family Vacation has going for it and he has a few gags that are simply hilarious including a scene in which he bans CDs from artists who have been shot like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. from being played in the car. Imagine his dismay when his wife points out that also includes Marvin Gaye "who was shot by his daddy--twice." But the comedian's arsenal of jokes--no matter how witty--do not a story make. Speaking of wasted talent the casting of stunning Williams as Nate's wife Dorothy is quite baffling. While Cedric the Entertainer could be married to someone this hot poor Nate probably couldn't. Nonetheless the quick-witted Williams holds her own next to one of the Original Kings of Comedy. Seventeen-year-old Bow Wow has worked hard to prove that he's not just a flash in the pan--and it's worked for the most part. He proved with Like Mike that he can act but the role of DJ here gets buried in this lousy film.
Christopher Erskin who makes his directorial debut here delivers a mess of a movie despite having squeezed out everything he could from his stars. Visually the sets resemble skits on a TV variety show rather than professional feature film sets the worst being the sequences where the family is in the SUV--almost half the entire film. To wit: you see them driving with the same scenery in the background--it's like in the The Flintstones when Fred would drive past the same palm tree next to the same rock house again and again. You can't help but picture the actors sitting in the Lincoln Navigator prop car in front of a large blue screen windows rolled down with a wind machine pointed at them. Matching the abysmal visuals are writers Todd R and Earl Richey Jones' ill-paced script. The film drags as the Johnson family encounters unoriginal setbacks and the end is not even a payoff; it's punishment. See the film doesn't end when family finally reaches Missouri: Moviegoers must the sit through the actual reunion and the Johnson family's Brady Bunch-style musical performance costumes and all. The only moment of brief relief is Steve Harvey's guest appearance as Nate's brother. But wait! It doesn't even end then--we have to follow the family back home to California.
Top Story: Madonna Turns Book Into Toys
Ever-enterprising Madonna has signed a deal with Signatures Network Inc. to develop toys based on her hit children's book The English Roses, The Associated Press reports. The toys will include dolls, apparel, accessories, cosmetics, stationery, room décor and back-to-school products aimed at preteen readers. "I'm excited about the opportunity to develop a range of beautiful products that will complement the book and continue to spread its positive messages to children," the pop diva told AP. The book has been printed in 30 languages, released in over 100 countries and became the largest children's book release in publishing history with a first printing of 1 million copies, AP reports. The Roses products begin rolling out in early 2004.
Limbaugh Dives Back Into Airwaves
Conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, who left the airwaves five weeks ago to treat an addiction to prescription painkillers, will pick up the microphone once again to continue his daily radio show. Reuters reports Limbaugh plans to resume his regular schedule starting on Monday, Nov. 17. He told his listeners Oct. 10 he needed to take some time off to get cleaned up and also acknowledged that he was the subject of a criminal investigation but gave no further details, Reuters reports.
Downey Jr. To Wed
Looks like Robert Downey Jr. is heading down the aisle again. According to Access Hollywood, the 38-year-old star will wed producer girlfriend Susan Levin. The two met earlier this year on the set of Downey's upcoming thriller Gothika, also starring Halle Berry, on which Levin received a producing credit. Downey told USA Today, "She has a real life, and she's really organized. It's really cool."
Senate Dives Into Piracy Issue
A bipartisan Senate duo, Sens. John Cornyn from Texas and Dianne Feinstein from California, have sponsored the Artists' Rights and Theft Prevention Act as the latest attempt by lawmakers to address some of the problems created by copyright piracy, Reuters reports. The legislation, introduced Thursday, would make it a felony to use a camcorder to record a motion picture in a theater and make it easier to prosecute people who illegally distribute copyrighted material before its legitimate release.
Shanghai Next Disney Theme Park Destination
Further attempting to open China to the Western world, city officials in Shanghai, China, are in talks with the Walt Disney Co. to bring a theme park to the area in 2010, Reuters reports. "The parties are still holding talks and if everything goes smoothly, we hope to open a Disney theme park around 2010," Li Wei, an official with the Shanghai government's information office, told Reuters. Disney, however, has stated the ongoing construction of its Hong Kong theme park is its first priority, which opens in 2005/2006.
Franken Contemplates Senate Run
Political satirist Al Franken, whose latest book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, is selling like hotcakes, is considering moving back to his home state of Minnesota and running against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in the 2008 Senate race, AP reports. "It's a long way away, five years away," Franken told the Minneapolis' Star Tribune this week. "It might be crazy. I might not be the best candidate. Part of this is seeing what happens next year and what direction things are going."
John Ritter's Mother Dies
Actress Dorothy Fay Ritter, best known for starring B-movie Westerns of the '30s and '40s and mother to the late John Ritter, died Nov. 5 of natural causes in Los Angeles. She was 88.
Role Call: Freeman Could Be "Champ"
Rod Lurie has signed on with Paramount Pictures to rewrite and direct the drama Resurrecting the Champ as a possible starring vehicle Morgan Freeman. According to Variety, the story centers on a 30-year-old sports reporter whose desperation for a big story leads him to track down a homeless man he believes was once a famous fighter. The journalist and the reluctant subject form a father-son-type bond as the writer chronicles the boxer's heartfelt story. When it turns out the subject wasn't completely honest about his identity, the writer loses his job.