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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Six reviews of Cheaper By the Dozen 2

Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia)
December 21, 2005 Wednesday
Final Edition
ARTS; Pg. C9
Cheap gags wear thin
Vanessa Farquharson, CanWest News Service

Rating: 2 1/2

- - -

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 begins with a pair of legs -- belonging to Steve Martin, it turns out -- stepping out of a station wagon in a pair of pants that are clearly too short, as though his tailor simply ran out of material.

It's a fitting metaphor for this sequel, which runs out of material in the first few minutes but keeps going anyway. Identical to its predecessor, but with the pleasant addition of Eugene Levy along with arguably even cheaper gags, the film follows the Brady Bunch -- or at least its contemporary incarnation, the Baker family -- as a family trip to the cottage spirals into comic disaster.

Much of the zany antics result from the competitive streaks of Tom (Martin) and his arch rival Jimmy Murtaugh (Levy), who owns the sprawling estate across the lake, which includes a dining table courtesy of the King of Thailand and a trophy room bursting with awards won by his kids who are over-achievers and therefore sad inside.

Jimmy and Tom spend the entire film trying to one-up the other, whether it's who sings a better campfire song or whose children are better behaved. Of course the Bakers, who specialize in cartoonish heights of wackiness, have some catching up to do when it comes to clam-bake etiquette and book smarts.

Director Adam Shankman, of The Pacifier and Bringing Down the House fame, has until recently specialized in choreography. If he'd thrown in a dance number here, other than a schmaltzy slow dance on the dock, it might have been improved.

But unfortunately all the other dancing is around issues of self-esteem and parental anxiety. In the end, we don't get much of a lesson about either, other than the old we-have-to-let-go-of-the-kids-at-some-point one, footnoted with a Kodak moment roasting marshmallows at dusk.

There is some good humour in the dialogue, at least, especially between the two wives. During one scene, Jimmy's fourth wife -- whose ambiguous trophy status is played to a tee by Carmen Electra -- exclaims to Mrs. Baker (Bonnie Hunt), "Kudos! That's my word of the day," to which she deadpans, "Oh ... fun ... it's fun to have a word."

Levy also brings a nice, vague sobriety to his role as the grooming dad who'd probably kill for one of those "My kid and my money go to Harvard" T-shirts. This, coupled with the cottage jokes, that will surely get a chortle or two from most Canadian audiences (also, note the Hudson's Bay blanket in one scene), give the film some charm.

But don't think Cheaper doesn't resort to the crassness of having elderly people in wheelchairs get inadvertently pushed into the lake -- twice -- or slapstick that's clinically dead (ie. malfunctioning plumbing, overturned dinner tables, watersports gone wrong, dogs attacking crotches, etc). And then there's the over-protective but loving dad character, who may be a bumbling fool but, when push comes to shove, proves he can be responsible.

Such is the stereotype played by Steve Martin, who's laid claim to it since Parenthood and both Father of the Brides. After seeing him take such a challenging, personal turn in Shopgirl, it's all the more depressing watching this veteran actor schlep through yet another dad role. Even his trademark wistful grin seems to have become more of a grimace, his enthusiasm as unbridled as a work horse.

The kids, at least, seem to be enjoying themselves, and Sarah (Alyson Stoner), who's at the centre of all the action, provides the most realistic depiction of early adolescence, from stealing makeup to the forced nonchalance of a first date.

But Hilary Duff, back as Lorraine, looks a little hungry around the eyes; she just doesn't seem comfortable in a supporting role where her only lines revolve around her not-yet-dad-approved internship at Allure magazine and the benefits of lip gloss.

What this film needs is a hint of the unexpected -- every ounce of humour has been coloured so far within the lines, it doesn't approach even the remotest edge of spontaneity.

The few gems it has drown in a sea of '50s-era slapstick, where the idealism is so pervasive that a lower-back tattoo, of a butterfly at that, leads a parent to contemplate disowning his child. Those who are truly jonesing for A Very Brady Christmas or who savour that syrupy sweet aftertaste of eggnog in the morning may derive some satisfaction from Cheaper 2.

But for the discerning filmgoer, it might cause a slight, family-friendly hangover.

The Toronto Sun
December 21, 2005 Wednesday

By all accounts, it wasn't that funny the first time.

But Hollywood loves a moneymaker, and the first Cheaper By The Dozen in 2003 -- actually an updated remake of the 1970 film starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy parently raked in about $190 million at the box office.

So Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt are back, reviving their roles as superbreeders Tom and Kate Baker in Cheaper By The Dozen 2, shot in and around Toronto earlier this summer.

This time, however, the couple's 12 children are either growing up too fast or leaving home. The oldest pregnant daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) is moving to Houston with her annoying husband (Jonathan Bennett), who is prone to feeding her organic food or reading to their unborn child when he isn't on his cellphone, while humourless second-eldest daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) is going to study fashion in New York City.

The Bakers' empty nest syndrome leads them to organize one last family summer vacation trip together at a beloved cabin on Lake Winnetka, Wisconsin.

But once the brood arrives, reality sets in as their rustic, paint-peeling cabin with a falling-apart dock clearly isn't what it once was. Its dilapidated state is only reinforced by the palatial estate across the lake called The Boulders.

Living inside the ridiculously large compound are obnoxious developer Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), his much-younger fourth wife Sarina (Carmen Electra) and his well-educated, over-achieving eight children, who he forces to read and write for two hours every day.

The well-organized Murtaugh clan is in stark contrast to the Baker's dozen, who spend their first minutes inside their cabin chasing a rat they've nicknamed The Chiseler.

Turns out too, that Martin and Levy are childhood rivals, which only fuels the long-standing family competition on the lake known as the Labour Day Cup.

Unfortunately, this family comedy doesn't live up to its promising premise due to an unfunny script by Sam Harper, whose credits include the first Cheaper movie and Just Married, and sloppy direction from Adam Shankman, who helmed the Martin/Levy comedy Bringing Down The House.

It seems like Shankman lost control of Martin and Levy, who are normally two of the most consistently funny men on screen.

Only Hunt manages to keep her dignity intact, and some of the younger children provide much needed comic relief, whether they're setting off fireworks at the Murtaugh's stuffy private club, or following a trail of animal droppings.

"Cool, we get to follow the poo!" exclaims one of the Baker's mischievous twin boys (played by Shane and Brent Kinsman).

That sounds more exciting than this movie.


Kids in the 8-12 range will probably enjoy the slapstick comedy but Steve Martin and Eugene Levy's pratfalls grow tiresome pretty quickly for the teenaged set and older. However, Bonnie Hunt is good in every scene she's in.


1 hour, 34 minutes

Starring: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy

Director: Adam Shankman

Rated: PG

PLOT: Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as the parents of a dozen children in this sequel to their 2003 box office hit. This time the couple take their brood for one last summer vacation at a lakeside cabin where Martin attempts to compete with Eugene Levy and his over-achieving, well-heeled clan.


December 21, 2005 Wednesday
FINAL Edition
Dad is wild and crazy and the kids are cute. Sound familiar? It's Part Deux of 'Dozen.'
Peter Hartlaub, Chronicle Pop Culture Critic


Cheaper by the Dozen 2: Comedy. Starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy and Tom Welling. Directed by Adam Shankman. (PG. 100 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)

Steve Martin is kind of like your uncle who still gets to play quarterback during the holiday family football game, even though he hasn't thrown a touchdown since 1992. His attempts at broad physical comedy have become so weak and predictable in recent years that it's getting harder to remember how funny he was in "The Jerk" and on "Saturday Night Live."

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" follows a similar path as the first movie, with 12 kids committing a series of criminal misdemeanors right up until the touching everyone-learns-a-big-lesson ending. Martin is the main foil for the brood's precocious violence, but there are some completely innocent victims as well. Rush out and see this film if you think the only thing funnier than a guy in a wheelchair getting knocked into a lake is a guy in a wheelchair getting knocked into a lake twice.

Martin and Bonnie Hunt are Tom and Kate Baker, whose superhuman fertility has strapped them with a dozen unruly kids, each with a distinct stereotype that roughly mirrors one of the youngsters in the original "Bad News Bears" --

the smart kid with glasses, the tomboy, the fat funny kid ...

A series of forgettable events sends everyone to a creaky cabin by a lake, where Tom becomes crazy with competitive spirit after running into a now-successful high school rival whose kids appear to be perfect. Eugene Levy shows up in this role, if for no other reason than he was about to lose the lead in his competition with Ben Affleck to see who can appear in more bad movies in the 21st century. ("Cheaper 2" makes the score Levy 15, Affleck 14.)

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is less a movie than random scenes from "The Brady Bunch" re-created by better actors and strung together to feature-film length. First dates are planned and then ruined, cherished possessions are lost and then found, and a dog knocks over a table filled with food. Davy Jones doesn't show up to take one of the kids to the prom, but it will almost certainly be a deleted scene on the DVD.

There are a few amusing moments mixed in with the painful ones, and Carmen Electra of all people, adds some needed originality by playing a brain-dead trophy wife who has a pretty good heart. But the addition of nearly a dozen new characters -- Levy's movie family is huge as well -- only makes the plots and subplots and sub-subplots that much harder to cram into the 100-minute movie.

Hunt once again tries her hardest in a losing cinematic cause, maintaining her dignity even though she's the voice of reason and thus has all the worst lines -- most of which are sapped up even further in a sea of string instruments from the manipulative musical score. "The tighter you hang on," Kate tells Tom, right before the violas kick into overdrive, "the more they're going to pull away."

The movie ends as you'd expect -- with two events that are foreshadowed in the first scene. (Spoiler in the next sentence!) Come to think of it, the idea to wrap everything up with a sappy final birthing scene was foreshadowed more than a decade ago in "Parenthood," "Father of the Bride II" and one or two other Martin movies I'm probably forgetting.

It's likely Martin suffers through the indignities of "Cheaper by the Dozen" films so he can more easily afford smaller, more personal projects such as "Shopgirl" and the forthcoming "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," where, if I remember Martin's theater production correctly, nobody's kids set off a backpack full of fireworks in a country club the way they do in "Cheaper 2."

But it seems like a big risk. Buddy Ebsen did some smaller films, too, and everyone still remembers him as Jed Clampett.

-- Advisory: This film contains comic violence and criminal mischief. Hilary Duff and Piper "Coyote Ugly" Perabo both appear in this movie -- normally a sign of the apocalypse, but not too horrible here, since they barely have any lines and neither one sings.


The Boston Globe
December 21, 2005 Wednesday

Noisy, silly, gratingly upbeat, and piously sentimental, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is what passes for wholesome family entertainment these days. It's the sort of movie to send small children and grandparents out of the theater hugging each other and strong men in search of bourbon.

Any resemblance to the original 1948 bestseller "Cheaper by the Dozen" and the ensuing 1950 movie has long been obliterated by the needs of the marketplace: The DVD player in your den is hungry, and this movie means to feed it. So we get more of what made 2003's "Cheaper" remake an across-the-board hit: Steve Martin with his frontal lobes removed as football coach Tom Baker, Bonnie Hunt as his loving, no-nonsense wife Kate, and a sprawling brood of kids with varying degrees of attitude.

They're beginning to grow up and pull away, though, a natural process that fills Tom with panic. Oldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) and her husband (Jonathan Bennett) are expecting their first child, while son Charlie (Tom Welling) yearns to strike out on his own and graduating daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) is off to New York for a magazine internship.

In a last-ditch effort to keep the clan together, Tom rents the Wisconsin lakefront cabin at which the family once spent their summers. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be: The place is a dump, the local pack rat is more brazen than ever, and Tom's high school rival now lives across the lake with his eight children in a McMansion the size of a retirement complex.

Said rival, Jimmy Murtaugh, is played by Eugene Levy as a gloating nudnick whose tan appears to have been applied with a putty knife. Jimmy's on his third wife (Carmen Electra; the script can't decide whether she's a sensitive soul or a jiggly bimbo) and he's a taskmaster with his kids, making them spend two hours a day reading and writing.

One of Tom's brood dismisses this as "lame," but it doesn't sound that terrible to me it's a lot closer, ironically, to how efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth treated his children in the original "Cheaper by the Dozen." Kate delivers the movie's countervailing philosophy when she tells her husband, "We give our kids love and guidance. What else is there?" Those who might offer suggestions "culture," "individual attention," "tax-free municipal bonds" are obviously subversives.

Still, "Cheaper" rolls along on well-greased wheels. The burden of the plot's little dramas falls on the younger kids, in particular Alyson Stoner as tomboy tweener Sarah. Conceiving a crush on daredevil Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner from "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D"), Sarah gets mopey and starts fiddling with make-up. Mom tells her "when you like a boy, don't be anything but yourself," but then the family offers her up on a first date with a full makeover, another of the movie's weird mixed messages. Elsewhere, there's a rote romance between Charlie and the oldest Murtaugh girl (Jaime King), while Duff just looks like she'd rather be in a different movie she's angry and haggard here, not at all pleasant company.

The burden of slapstick falls on Martin, of course, and those of us who treasure the goofball intellectual wit of the comedian's early career may watch in dismay as Tom takes water-ski pratfalls and suffers random crotch injuries, never ceasing to grin a well-paid, defanged grin.

Your kids will laugh hell, my kids will laugh but speaking as a father, I have to say Tom Baker is one idiot patriarch too many. We're saddled with the cliche dumb daddy in ads, TV sitcoms, comic strips, but a neutered Steve Martin is the last straw. I therefore announce the founding of a new anti-defamation organization, Fathers United against Dopey Dads or F.U.D.D. and call for volunteers and greater media awareness of this slanderous stereotype. A dad is a terrible thing to waste, and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is one vast, cheery wasteland.


Los Angeles Times
December 21, 2005 Wednesday
Home Edition
CALENDAR; Calendar Desk; Part E; Pg. 3
REVIEW; There's no need to settle for the 'Cheaper' laughs;
Sympathetic characters and deft acting give this comedy sequel about a large family appeal.
Kevin Thomas, Times Staff Writer

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" proves that less is more -- in comparison to the dismal "Yours, Mine & Ours" remake -- that the occasional comic calamity works better than nonstop chaos and allows for a family comedy that is actually involving, even believable, and manages to be pretty funny too.

Directed perceptively and energetically by Adam Shankman, this sequel to the 2003 hit is as shiny as a Christmas tree ornament yet gives full rein to Steve Martin's warm but sophisticated, richly nuanced talent and shows to advantage a large cast featuring Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy and Carmen Electra.

Sam Harper's clever script turns upon a universal tug, which is the reluctance of parents to let their kids go. Faced with the news that pregnant daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) and her husband (Jonathan Bennett) will be moving to Houston and that daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) is off to New York, Martin's Tom Baker decides the family should have one last vacation together, at their beloved Lake Winnetka, Wis.

The Bakers' 12 kids are reluctant, but Dad, with a nudge from Mom (Hunt), persuades them to agree to the plan. Clearly, the Bakers, based in the Chicago area, haven't vacationed there for some years, and the remorseless course of change that gives this comedy its shading hits home when they're faced with the ramshackle condition of the place they so enjoyed in the past. Tom rallies the troops, but a more daunting prospect looms across the lake: a lavish log palace, only slightly smaller than Old Faithful Inn, constructed by Tom's lifelong rival, Jimmy Murtaugh (Levy), who has but eight children, about a zillion bucks, a gorgeous third wife (Electra) and who now owns almost the entire resort community.

Murtaugh's strict discipline has resulted in offspring who excel at everything but experience feelings of mounting rebellion toward their obnoxious martinet father. Since childhood Jimmy has been jealous of Tom for his popularity, especially with girls, and, to be sure, this ancient rivalry will flare up, but not before the Baker and Murtaugh children get to know and like each other.

To his credit, Shankman smoothly forges a cast of some 25 principals to form an engaging ensemble with the focus on Martin and Levy's deft sparring. Hunt is graciously understated as a wise wife and mother, but what helps lift the film above the usual is the way in which Electra's Sarina is written and played. Despite her spectacular looks, Sarina refuses to be a mere trophy wife, wishes her husband would grow up, wants genuinely to be a good stepmother and asks Hunt's Kate for advice. Electra is delightful: She helps humanize Levy's overbearing Jimmy and thereby gives the film an unexpected dimension.

Many families are likely to find "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" a holiday treat.


The Vancouver Province (British Columbia)
December 21, 2005 Wednesday
Final Edition
Cheaper 2 cheap on laughs: He's selling out to half-hearted comedy remakes
Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

Warning: G. 94 minutes.
Grade: C-

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is perfectly acceptable shmaltz, another movie ode to permissive parenting and inadequate birth control. So, if you didn't get your "the more the merrier" jollies with the remake of Yours, Mine & Ours, here's a sequel to the last Dozen.

But two Dozens and Ours together don't have a dozen laughs between them.

Shopgirl proved that Steve Martin doesn't want to spend his dotage remaking the John Candy-movie catalogue. But that's pretty much what comedy's reigning sellout is doing. He's Father of the Bride to Father of the Brood.

That's what Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is, another half-hearted ka-ching family "comedy" about the dozen-kid Baker family of upstate Illinois. Martin reunites with his first Dozen and Bringing Down the House director, ex-choreographer Adam Shankman, and a teeming mass of kids for a Labour Day trip to the old family vacation rental. That's where Tom (Martin) can renew his rivalry with Jimmy Murtaugh, played by Eugene Levy, who at least gives Martin somebody with comic weight to battle.

The frugal Bakers and the wealthy Murtaughs mix it up. Mom (the ever-game Bonnie Hunt) tries to keep the peace. But she and the latest Mrs. Murtaugh (Carmen Electra, meeeeooow) are having no luck.

At least the kids are getting along -- almost too well. The oldest, Charlie Baker (Tom Welling of Smallville) and Anne Murtaugh (Jaime King), are batting eyes at one another. The Baker's tomboyish prankster, Sarah, played by the very winning Alyson Stoner, is discovering boys, a Murtaugh boy to be precise.

Yes, the Dozen are growing up. Nora (Piper Perabo) and her new hubby are expecting. As Tom puts it, "Life's blazing by." He's just an observer. Jimmy Murtaugh is his opposite, a control freak.

"Parenting comes down to one word, Tom. Push. You don't push, they don't amount to anything." His kids are over-achievers. The Bakers have other priorities.

Martin recycles all his Parenthood/Father of the Bride shtick, the funny dance, the goofy efforts to be "cool with the kids." His idea of daddyhood seems to be that clueless bachelor camp counsellor whose car we would stuff with pine needles every summer.

Teen idol Hilary Duff, back as the high-maintenance Baker girl, has moved into a particularly awkward-looking age. When she's old enough, she should sue her hairdresser on this one. She looks like a horse, a scary horse. With cleavage.

But she's still wearing less makeup than Martin.

Martin's longtime fans can only cling to the odd moment -- a hip-hop turn in Bringing Down the House, or the planned film of his funny play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

But there is further news to make us abandon all hope for him and the joker he once was. His Pink Panther remake is due in February.


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