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THE MAN WHO COPIED (O HOMEM QUE COPIAVA)

A heavy dose of whimsy is mixed with some effortful social commentary and misguided caper shenanigans in this Brazilian film by Jorge Furtado. “The Man Who Copied” benefits from an amusingly deadpan lead performance by Lazaro Ramos as a lovesick photocopy machine operator who tries his hand at counterfeiting in order to connect with the girl he admires from afar–with the obligatory disastrous results–but the script’s shifts of tone are never smoothly melded, and the lethargic pacing drags the story out mercilessly.

Ramos plays Andre, who–in what’s becoming an increasingly annoying crutch for filmmakers–narrates his life at such inordinate length, especially early on in the picture, that the movie threatens to become an audiobook with illustrations. Andre, who lives with his TV-addicted mother in a small flat in Porto Alegre, barely makes ends meet with his menial job, and when he becomes obsessed with a neighbor girl (whom he spies on with binoculars from his window across the street), he wants to impress her by purchasing something from her at the store where she works. Unfortunately, he’s nearly broke, so he uses the copying machine on a banknote and then goes through a convoluted process to lauder it and spend the real bill he’s exchanged it for. But that’s just the beginning salvo in a plot that eventually takes turns into a botched bank robbery, a most unlikely victory in the national lottery, a confrontation with a drug dealer, and a convoluted scheme to take revenge on a blackmailer who also happens to be a sexual pervert. As the more serious elements of the tale take over, the writer-director attempts to maintain a comic air, though it becomes increasingly dark and macabre. But by the time people are getting shot and lured to their deaths, you may find it more and more difficult to laugh at the proceedings. (“Charade” this is not.)

There are some elements in the film that have an engaging effect. One is the occasional use of animation (Andre being an amateur cartoonist), and another is the eclectic score, which employs classical music as well as popular tunes to complement the action. And even as the story goes south, Ramos–as laid-back and phlegmatic here as he was over-the-top in “Madame Sata”–holds the screen nicely. His co-stars–Leandra Leal as romantic interest Silvia, Pedro Cardoso as a buddy with a larcenous streak, and Luana Piovani as Andre’s sexpot co-worker–provide solid support.

But in the final analysis Furtado’s film is just too clumsily structured and lackadaisically paced to make the grade.

ARE WE THERE YET?

It’s really a good thing that John Hughes isn’t a litigious fellow, because his old whitebread scripts are becoming the unacknowledged sources for “new” comedies with African-American casts. Last year’s “Johnson Family Vacation” was a blatant ripoff of his script for “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” and now this Ice Cube vehicle does a twofer. The story of a guy who’s stuck transporting the two hostile youngsters of a single mom he’s interested in–with predictably slapsticky and sentimental results–is basically a retread of Hughes’ 1991 schmaltz-fest “Dutch,” crossed with a strong dose of another of his movies, the far superior “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987). The picture travels such a well-worn road that you feel that you’ve ridden it many times over.

The premise is ultra-simple. Nick Persons (Ice Cube) is the owner of a Portland sports memorabilia shop and an inveterate player–but he dislikes kids intensely. He notices a beautiful architect named Suzanne (Nia Long) who works across the street from his place, but is horrified to discover that she’s a divorcee with two children–eight-year old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden) and eleven-year old Lindsey (Aleisha Allen). To make things worse, the children, who want to get their parents back together, systematically sabotage any relationship their mother might enter into with a guy. Things come to a head when Suzanne has to take a work trip to Vancouver and her ex, claiming illness, can’t take the children while she’s gone. It’s not long before Nick has agreed to bring Lindsey and Kevin to Vancouver, and when the little monsters destroy his plans to fly (security infractions) and derail his hope to take a train, he’s reduced to driving them the distance in his new Lincoln Navigator. Predictably, their shenanigans lead to his regular humiliation and the SUV’s systematic destruction until something happens that changes their attitudes and leads them all to bond. The meanness curdles, in other words, and the comedy of destruction and frustration morphs in the obligatory fashion into feel-good warmth. It’s the Hughes formula par excellence.

It’s hard to imagine this by-the-numbers business working under any circumstances, but the fact that it’s Ice Cube in the lead makes things worse. He tries hard, to be sure, but his characteristic surliness gets in the way, and it has to be admitted that he’s not a natural comic, coming across as stiff and forced. The children aren’t much better, though in their case the fault lies more with the writing, which makes them such monsters of smug entitlement that you don’t have much trouble understanding why their father left; and when they turn into sweethearts, they don’t become much more tolerable. Long is utterly wasted in a thankless part, and among the supporting cast only Jay Mohr, as Nick’s clerk and pal, seems comfortable enough to underplay. But the worst secondary player is certainly the bubblehead doll of Satchel Paige that Nick keeps on his dashboard, and which he converses with throughout (Tracy Morgan provides the voice). The gag might have worked once, but endlessly repeated it grows stale fast, especially since the plastic figure’s lines are pretty lame (and the animation none too good, either). Brian Levant, whose comic touch has never been light (his previous work includes the two “Flintstones” movies, “Problem Child 2,” “Beethoven,” “Jingle All the Way” and “Snow Dogs”), shows no improvement this time around, and on the technical side the picture is at best mediocre, though the location work by cinematographer Thomas Ackerman isn’t bad.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if while you’re watching “Are We There Yet?” the question you’ll be repeatedly asking yourself is “Is It Over Yet?” Happily, the answer is eventually “Yes.”