Thursday, 12 April 2007

Are We Reaping Done Yet?!?

Bienvenue to the inaugural post celebration of Blip on the Radar. This is a place for discussing various things in pop culture of momentary, longterm, or permanent interest. We'll see where it goes.

As of now I'm a bit tired of talking about Grindhouse, and it will be the full column in tomorrow's The Coast anyway. Instead, I'm gonna break this blog in with reviews of movies of less interest among people who spend all day on the Internet.

The first is Are We Done Yet?, a sequel to the 2005 Ice Cube comedy Are We There Yet?. There are people I know who wouldn't fathom going to see this, but it wasn't an experience I was particularly dreading. For one thing, I'm among the 12% of Rotten Tomatoes-certified critics who liked the first movie. On top of that, I feel Ice Cube is unfairly judged as an actor--close to how some critics feign offense to Cuba Gooding, Jr. appearing in light comedies, except that in their eyes Ice Cube has the added demerit of an opportunistic rap star.

Cube’s family man persona in recent movies can be twisted into evidence of the once incendiary entertainer losing his relevance. What the mainstream media never acknowledges is that the success of Cube’s Friday, Barbershop and Are We There Yet? series means he has more recent popular comedy franchises to his name than any of his contemporaries. It’s a feat that would only be beaten if Scary Movie, Austin Powers and American Pie had a unifying star between them.

That Are We Done Yet? is a half-hearted sequel—a purported remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House that’s closer in tone to The Money Pit and Funny Farm—has little to do with Ice Cube’s efforts. Projecting humility and frustration as Nick, the husband to Nia Long and surrogate father of her unruly kids, Cube is a charismatic screen presence. The torment Nick endures is tamer than in the first film, and strangely empathetic.

Since Nick is the only character with whom it’s possible to identify (his wife basically only speaks up to complain that his unwillingness to get ripped off by a contractor is taking his attention away from the kids), the slapstick isn’t sadistic. But that doesn’t make this sequel’s propensity of scenes where animals attack Nick, and moments where he learns the difference between a house and a home, more than inoffensive.

There’s something curious about a movie where Ice Cube resolves tensions with his arch nemesis by drinking coffee with him. That’s a leap in anger management from a rapper who boasted, “I’m meaner than a motherfuckin hyena chasin antelope/Put my chrome to your dome, watch it bust like a cantaloupe.” Whether it’s an advance in his comedic taste is another debate.

The "you owe us more" attitude follows Hilary Swank, because unlike Ice Cube (who comforts the white elite by rarely making movies they want to see), she has two Oscars.

As Katherine Winter in The Reaping, she's the house calls version of Richard Dawkins. Proving to communities that believe they’re blessed and cursed by spiritual interference are really succumbing to scientific phenomenon, her lack of faith is tested in the southern town of Haven. Rivers of blood, raining toads, and locust storms make for interesting set pieces in Stephen Hopkins’ (Predator 2) otherwise routine plague thriller. But the question remains, if God’s presence comes through in a movie, is it acceptable that the movie have no personality?

Katherine takes up residence in the white rural mansion that’s in every movie about the southern US. A story of a spiritually broken woman’s awakening shouldn’t skimp on character detail to the point where everybody is taken care of with a couple of defining traits. The story overshadows human interest. Between effects-shots is a whole movie of people discussing how fascinating things are.

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