Cheaper By The Dozen Review
I didn't expect Cheaper By The Dozen to be a great movie but I did think it might be a bit more fun than it is. This has to be one of the most downbeat mainstream comedies I've ever seen. It tells the story of a big, happy family who move from their home in the country to the big city, where they turn into a big, unhappy family. Sure, this is a Steve Martin comedy so you know it won't end with the parents getting divorced and the kids being taken into care but regardless of what happens in the last five minutes, most of the running time is devoted to the family's gradual decline into misery. There are some funny bits but fewer than you'd think. I saw it the same day as The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci's arthouse drama about an intense and twisted three-way relationship between students in riot-torn 1960s Paris and, I swear to you, the Bertolucci film is not only far funnier but it sent me out of the cinema in a cheerier mood.
Martin plays former American football player Tom Baker, now a part-time coach for a small local team. Tom's given up his dream of managing a major college side so he can be around for his sportswriter wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) and their rapidly expanding brood. One day he receives a call from an old team-mate (Richard Jenkins), now a college bigwig in Chicago, who offers him the major coaching job he's always wanted. The one drawback is that he'll have to move his family to the big city. Of course Tom can't resist and, with Kate's support, he signs up. Winning over the kids proves to be a much harder job. None of them want to leave their hometown, their friends and their sweethearts. On the plus side, they'll all be better off financially and they'll all have plenty more space in their new home, a suburban mansion so gigantic that Steve Martin could probably just about afford it in real life, although in terms of credibility, this still ranks higher than casting Martin and Richard Jenkins as American football jocks.
At this point, things turn sour. We're about half an hour into the movie and it's been amiable enough so far. Director Shawn Levy (Just Married) does a decent job of setting the Bakers up as a likeable, oddball family and we can even tell most of the kids apart. Once we're in Chicago, everything goes wrong. Kate is dispatched on a lengthy book tour, meaning Tom has to manage both the football team and the entire family. In short, Tom turns from a clumsy but well-meaning dad into a selfish jerk, the kids are bullied at school, the neighbours turn out to be awful snobs, the Bakers' elder daughter (Piper Perabo) deserts her siblings for her dimwit boyfriend and one of the younger kids comes to believe no one loves him... like I said, some of this is funny, the kids' pranks on the dimwit boyfriend for example, but there aren't enough laughs to compensate for the grim story and the overall effect is depressing.
Cheaper By The Dozen is a remake of a 1950 comedy of the same name, itself based on a true story about a large and unconventional family. I haven't seen that version, though judging by the plot description on the Internet Movie Database, all the remake has taken from it is the title and the number of kids. The real motivation for making this was obviously to cast Steve Martin as a bumbling dad, a role he's played successfully before in such hits as Parenthood and Father Of The Bride. Unfortunately this isn't a patch on Parenthood and comes a clear second even to the mediocre Father Of The Bride. Steve Martin mugs like a pro but, like Eddie Murphy in The Haunted Mansion, he's on automatic pilot. Also wasted is Bonnie Hunt, who displays a sharp wit in the out-takes over the end credits but is given few opportunities to use it in the movie. Young fans of teen queen Hilary Duff will also be disappointed at how little she's given to do. It's Ashton Kutcher, star of MTV's Punk'd and Dude, Where's My Car?, who comes out of this with the most credit, ironically since he's not credited! He portrays a male model so memorably vain and dim that I found myself wishing the movie was about him.