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MOVIE REVIEW

Ice Cube's dream house turns into a nightmare

Ice Cube (right) is no handyman in "Are We Done Yet?" His costar, Philip Bolden, is no help. (ROB MCEWAN)

Suddenly, Ice Cube is the star and producer of what's threatening to become a family-movie franchise. It seems like only yesterday that he rapped, "Now everybody in the world love to go clubbin'/ And after the club it's either breakfast or [expletive]." That Cube is now stuck in the countryside doing home repairs in this charmless sequel to 2005's "Are We There Yet?" is ironic. It's also inevitable.

Cube is now 37 and the married father of four. So for him, some mornings it's just breakfast. But if "Are We Done Yet?" is to be believed, some mornings breakfast ends up all over his Johnny Unitas throwback jersey.

For this second installment, Cube reprises his role as Nick Persons , a likeable Portland, Ore., sports nut. At the end of the first movie, he learned to tolerate his girlfriend's brats. Even though the mother, Suzanne, was and still is played by Nia Long , this qualified as an act of saintliness. Outfitted with miniskirts and luxurious highlighted hair, Long glows in her latest thankless part, looking like somebody En Vogue left behind.

By the time the sequel starts, Nick has replaced his demolished Lincoln Navigator and started a sports magazine. The first cover story is supposed to be an interview with Magic Johnson , whose theaters are no doubt playing this movie. Nick has married Suzanne. But his Flatiron Building-style apartment is too small for him, her, the kids -- Lindsey (Aleisha Allen ) and Kevin (Philip Bolden ) -- and their dog to co exist comfortably. So it's off to the exurbs, which displeases the little ones.

They're both as obnoxious as ever, especially ultra-sassy Lindsey, who's so miffed about the move that she lies down in front of Nick's SUV in protest. That he doesn't hit the gas should win him some kind of peace prize.

But as brainlessly concocted by its makers, "Are We Done Yet?" is far less about the terrors these kids contrive and more about the nightmare of homeownership. Nick and Suzanne (pregnant with twins, by the way) purchase a five-bedroom house -- oh, who are we kidding? It's a chateau, one apparently made of paper. You can't look at a wall without putting a hole in it. Fixing the chandelier that crashes through the dining room table, repairing the dry rot, and restoring the power aren't tasks Nick can handle alone. Though in typical sitcom-dad fashion, he tries.

For comic exclamation and wholesale wackiness, John C. McGinley is brought in for too many scenes as the real-estate agent, contractor, midwife, and more. He always has more bad news about this lemon of a house, and there's something vain and grotesque about the way McGinley wrestles the movie away from everybody with his hamming. He's frequently put in tight clothes or is shirtless for no reason. I can't recall a character performance so predicated upon the camera's needless worship of a fatless body.

This should be a funny role, but McGinley seems so rigidly aware of the camera that it's hard to enjoy him. Jacob Vargas , as a blind plumber, is more effortlessly comical. McGinley's is a Don Knotts part played by a taller, brawnier relative of Richard Simmons . The movie so wants us to like this guy that it gives him a sad story at the eleventh hour, and has Nick, in the middle of a major spat with Suzanne, go off to make nice with McGinley first. Huh?

"Are We Done Yet?" purports to be a remake of the 1948 Cary Grant-Myrna Loy charmer, "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House," which also inspired another obtuse remake, 1986's "The Money Pit." The problem with the new film is that Ice Cube is too cool for the plot's nonsense. The faulty house and McGinley's behavior never inspire him to blow his top. We need to feel Nick's frustration, and he needs to be smarter than and visibly exasperated by the escalating craziness. The movie needs Richard Dreyfuss .

It also needs actual escalation. Instead, the woefully uninspired director Steve Carr ("Dr. Dolittle 2," "Daddy Day Care," "Rebound") drags us from one flat, kid-tickling mishap to another, including a fight with a talking raccoon and, later, another with a large fish. But while one critic didn't laugh, some children and a few grownups did, so the movie must count as some kind of success.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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