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Cheaper by the Dozen

Cheaper by the Dozen, a contemporary remake of the 1950 Walter Lang comedy based on the novel by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth, has lost a lot in its modern-day translation. Large family humor may have worked in the '50s, but in the 21st century, when small two-income families are the norm, Cheaper by the Dozen is difficult to imagine, let alone laugh with.


Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) Baker head a very large family, but having 12 children--all biologically--does not necessarily get them any discounts, regardless of what the title Cheaper by the Dozen may suggest. The Bakers lead a utopian life in Midland, a small Illinois town where Tom coaches the local college football team, and while they all squabble over petty matters such as personal time allotted in front of the bathroom mirror, this family is generally quite content--until career opportunities come knocking on their door. Tom gets an offer to coach the Stallions, a squad at a large Chicago university, and Kate hears from a publishing house that wants to publish Cheaper by the Dozen, her book about the perils of raising a large family. Seduced by the prospect of a more affluent lifestyle, Tom and Kate decide to move the whole brood to Chicago. But transplanting a family of 14 proves difficult, and with their hectic new work schedules, Tom and Kate soon find themselves stretched a little thin. To make matters worst, they receive absolutely no support form their children, who constantly bellyache about moving back to Midland--especially teens Charlie (Tom Welling) and Lorraine (Hilary Duff), who find their big city schools hard to adapt to. After suffering constant and unbearable pressure from kids, Tom and Kate are forced to choose between their dream jobs in Chicago or a more rudimentary but family-oriented life in Midland.


The physically expressive Martin creates the most multifaceted and likeable character in the film with his winning rendition of a father of 12; a wiseass, a crank, a loving husband and a doting father, Martin's character Tom is all over the place, as one would expect a man in his position to be. Hunt holds her own alongside Martin as his wife, Kate, the matriarch of the family. Hunt's character is a little goofier and simpler than Martin's, but she's believable nonetheless as the biological mother of 12. Most importantly, the two stars click and manage to rise above the trite material. What doesn't work, however, are the nine youngest kids. Each of them is a stereotype--there's the brain, the nerd, the tomboy--and they all say things most kids their ages wouldn't: A 5-year-old asks, ''Now we have to take orders from Hank, the model-slash-actor?'' Welling and Duff, the second and third children, aren't as thoroughly annoying as the younger cast; they're self-centered, but that's the way teens actually are. Piper Perabo plays the family's oldest daughter Nora, who shares an apartment with her boyfriend Hank (Ashton Kutcher). The twosome's life outside the chaotic household is a welcome relief in the film's neurotic family setting and Kutcher provides some of the pic's genuinely funny lines: ''I'm not that good of an actor,'' Hank tells the family over dinner. ''This [framing his face with his hands] is my money maker.''


Director Shawn Levy's Cheaper by the Dozen, a much more family-friendly pic than his last feature, Just Married, is a little too benign. The film is so saturated with physical comedy--lots of swinging from chandeliers and the family pooch snatching at someone's crotch--that one has to wonder if the gags were obtained at a bulk discount. The characters in Cheaper by the Dozen are nothing short of irritating: The younger kids are smart-alecky types regurgitating lines obviously penned by thirty-something scribes, while the older, self-absorbed teens need lessons in how to deal and are impossible to sympathize with. Sure, moving to a different town blows. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and let your parents do their thing. And the parents? Who can identify with a couple who couldn't predict that 12 children would one day jeopardize their career ambitions?

Bottom Line

With its clichéd jokes and hackneyed one-liners, Cheaper by the Dozen isn't exactly knee-slapping comedy, and its outdated premise makes it hard to relate to. Let's just pray that this comedy doesn't spawn a sequel entitled The Baker's Dozen.