Cheaper by the Dozen 2 review by Mike Long

In my recent review for Shopgirl , I lamented the fact that we were seeing a Steve Martin movie which could have been funny, but was instead a drama. With Cheaper by the Dozen 2, we are treated (?) to a Steve Martin film which was intended to be a comedy, but it isn't funny. Will the real Steve Martin please stand up?

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 picks up not long after the original film, as we get re-acquainted with the Baker family. As Lorraine (Hilary Duff) is graduating from high school and Nora (Piper Perabo) is expecting her first child (along with her husband Bud (Jonathan Bennett) -- so apparently she didn't get back together with Ashton Kutcher's character from the first film), Tom Baker (Steve Martin) begins to realize that as his children get older, the family will grow apart. So, Tom suggests that the entire family take a trip to the lake where they had visited years ago. Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) and the kids aren't sure of this idea at first, but Tom is able to convince them.

Once the Baker's arrive at the old lake house, they find it to be more "rustic" (read: dilapidated) than they remembered. Something they do remember is local mogul Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), who is very competitive and constantly brags about his wealth. When Jimmy isn't bragging about his eight children, he is showing off his new wife, Sarina (Carmen Electra). Jimmy has always brought out Tom's competitive nature and things are even worse now, as Tom decides that the best way to give his family a great vacation will be to one-up the Murtaughs. This leads to an extreme competition between the two men, and both families suffer for it.

Considering how much I didn't like the first movie, I wasn't expecting much from Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and it didn't let me down. If anything, this sequel is even more vacuous, unbelievable, and pointless than the original. There are so many things wrong with this movie that I don’t know where to start, but I’ll discuss the major problems in no particular order.

The first film was absurd in the unrealistic manner in which it depicted the Bakers and their daily lives and the sequel pushes this even further. How could anyone afford to clothe and feed 12 children is beyond me, but the idea of taking them on vacation really seems like science-fiction. Even if you suspend your disbelief as much as possible, you have to assume that the Bakers are wealthy in some capacity. (Just look at the graduation party that they throw for Lorraine). And yet, once they reach the lake, they are the poor family there and the Murtaugh’s are rich. Well, the Murtaugh’s must have a bajillion-zillion dollars. I realize that it’s just a movie, but when there are people in this country who are living check-to-check and can barely afford to feed their families, seeing a family like the Bakers portrayed as “poor” is an insult.

Another problem with the second film is its utter lack of an interesting story. Granted, the first film bit off more than it could chew as it tried to focus on every family member. Cheaper by the Dozen 2 avoids this, by only highlighting a few of the kids, with Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner), getting a lot of screen time. But, the result is a lot of children wandering around who have no identity. Heck, I don’t think we even learn the names of some of the kids. There are minor crises for Charlie (Tom Welling) and Lorraine, but it’s painfully obvious that these actors weren’t available enough to build true stories around. So, the bulk of the film is simply one vignette after another of Tom trying to out do Murtaugh. And to say that the story is predictable is an understatement.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2‘s greatest sin may well be the fact that it wastes so much comedic talent. Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, and Bonnie Hunt are all truly gifted comics, but there’s little humor to be found here. Hunt gets in some good one-liners (which were probably improvised), but the rest of the comedy is supposed to come from physical humor. Yes, Steve Martin can be funny when he falls down, but not so here. In fact, given Martin’s well-known wit and intelligence, the whole affair feels like a colossal waste.

Here’s two things that you should know about my kids: they loved Cheaper by the Dozen and they love to watch movies over and over again. It speaks volumes that while watching Cheaper by the Dozen 2 they didn’t laugh, and even more telling, they haven’t asked to watch it again. (Which is fine by me, as the film has an odd air of sexuality that feels very out of place.) The fact that this movie made $82 million at the box office frankly worries me. I love escapist entertainment where I can turn my brain off, but I don’t want it to atrophy in the process.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 reproduces 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 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The visuals here look good, as the picture is sharp and clear. The most noticeable thing about this transfer is how bright and realistic the colors are. The picture shows basically no grain, but there is some visible artifacting. The DVD contains a surprisingly nimble Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The dialogue is audible and sounds fine. There is a nice amount of surround sound action and even a dabbling of subwoofer effects from time to time.

The Cheaper by the Dozen 2 DVD has a few extras to offer. Director Adam Shankman provides an awkward audio commentary, as he acts as if he doesn't know what to say about the movie. He provides some details and anecdotes, but at other times he'll simply make off-hand remarks about the movie which aren't very educational. "Camp Chaos" is a 10-minute featurette which goes an overview of the making of the film, with comments from cast and crew on location-shooting, working with Shankman, and how crazy the kids are in real life. In "A Comedic Trio" (5 minutes), the cast share their thoughts on working with Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, and Bonnie Hunt. Shankman and casting director Monica Swann discuss the casting of the Murtaughs in "Casting Session" (8 minutes). The extras are rounded out by two Theatrical Trailers for the film.

2 out of 10 Jackasses

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