Johnson Family Vacation
As headliner Cedric the Entertainer demonstrates in this mediocre road-trip flick, no amount of comedic genius can pump up this flat comedy.
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.
This talented cast needs a great big tire jack to get out from under the weight of this terrible road-trip comedy in desperate need of roadside assistance.