Cheaper by the Dozen review by Mike Long

Are you seeing planes? Is your name Tattoo? Because I swear to God, you're living on Fantasy Island.

-- Doug Butabi A Night at the Roxbury

Hollywood deals in fantasy, because, let's face it, few want to see reality on the screen. Even when we get a so-called "realistic" movies, this usually equates unrealistically depressing. One area where Hollywood rarely gets things right is with families and home-life. Filmmakers are typically guilty of giving us extremes when it comes to families and the recent remake Cheaper by the Dozen certainly goes over-the-top in many ways.

Cheaper by the Dozen stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as Tom and Kate Baker, a couple who have 12 children -- Nora (Piper Perabo), Charlie (Tom Welling), Lorraine (Hilary Duff), Henry (Kevin Schmidt), Sarah (Alyson Stoner), Jake (Jacob Smith), Jessica (Liliana Mumy), Kim (Morgan York), Mark (Forrest Landis), Mike (Blake Woodruff), Nigel (Brent Kinsman), and Kyle (Shane Kinsman). Tom is a football coach at a small college and Kate is a housewife, who is writing a book about her life with 12 children. But, Tom and Kate spend most of their time simply keeping track of their children. When Tom is offered a job with his alma mater, a much larger school, he jumps at the chance to follow his dreams. So, despite the reluctance of the children, the family is uprooted from their rural home to Chicago. Once they move, Kate's book is accepted by a publisher, and she must do publicity for it. As their Tom and Kate's careers begin to demand more of their time, the children start to suffer. Can Tom and Kate fulfill their dreams and raise their family?

Cheaper by the Dozen is a remake of a 1950 film, which was based on a 1949 novel by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. The Gilbreth's were "efficiency experts" who applied workplace principals to parenting. But, apparently, this updated version has nothing at all to do with the original sources. The only similarity appears to be the 12 children. And these 12 children are simply an excuse for on-screen chaos. If the thought of having 12 kids doesn't scare you, then the behavior of the children in this movie will have you seeking some sort of extreme birth control. The law of averages says that of the dozen children, at least one would be calm and abiding, but not in Hollywood. All 12 have some sort of issue and are always causing trouble for their put-upon parents. In another nice Hollywood touch, we are told at the outset that the large family is a financial burden, but the Bakers live in a nice, big house, and one Tom gets his new job, the house only gets nicer and better. And the film's final message is that it's better to be poor and happy than to live comfortably and be stressed. Only a big-budget Hollywood film could deliver such a condescending message to beleaguered Americans. Reportedly, the Cheaper by the Dozen source novel explored the reality of raising children, while the film goes completely in the other direction.

But, enough of my soapboxing, how is the movie otherwise? Actually, it’s not very good. Listen, when Ashton Kutcher (who gives an uncredited performance as Nora’s boyfriend) is the best part of a Steve Martin film, something has gone horribly wrong. Of course, Martin does have some funny moments in the film, but we’re laughing at him as Steve Martin, not as Tom Baker. Bonnie Hunt is good and delivers her lines with her trademark dry wit, but why do her t-shirts seem to get tighter in every scene?. The story is incredibly predictable (and once again, unrealistic) and with 14 main characters, there is little time for character development beyond the usual stereotypes. (Considering what a “hot” star Hilary Duff is, she plays less than a one-note character and is hardly in the film.) The idea of a family with 12 children should lead to organic comedy, but everything here feels very staged and forced. As with Just Married, director Shawn Levy takes an idea which most people could relate to and blows it totally out of proportion. It will be much cheaper if you avoid this movie.

Cheaper by the Dozen arrives on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. While this transfer isn’t perfect, I have no major complaints about it. The image is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source print. This is a very colorful film and all of the shades look fine here. The are some trace elements of ringing artifacts, but otherwise the transfer looks good. The DVD contains a serviceable Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The occasional surround effects (coming mostly from musical cues or during the football games) are fine, but there is little in the way of LFE response.

The DVD has only a few extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Shawn Levy, who speaks excitedly throughout the film. Levy delivers a wealth of information about the film’s production and speaks highly of his cast and crew. And despite the fact that he speaks non-stop throughout the film, Levy gets very in-depth in his descriptions of the proceedings. A second commentary features many of the kids, with Alyson Stoner, Jacob Smith, Kevin Schmidt, Morgan York, Liliana Mumy, and selected comments from Piper Perabo. This is exactly what you think it would be, as the kids make a lot of “Do you remember that?” and “Wasn’t that cool?” comments without actually telling us anything. Perabo’s nuggets are few and far between, as she was recorded separately from the kids. “Director’s Viewfinder: Creating a Fictional Family” (5 minutes) allows Levy to talk about the making of the film and shows how he worked with the kids during filming. Levy states, “We played Missy Elliot on the set.” Oh, that explains a lot. “Orphans: Deleted and Extended Scenes” features 5 scenes which can be viewed with or without commentary by Levy and there is a “Play All” feature. The only standout here is the excised cameo by Eileen Brennan.

3 out of 10 Jackasses

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