Cheaper by the Dozen
directed by Shawn Levy
(20th Century Fox, 2003)

Steve Martin may not be a dad in real life, but he's making quite a killing getting into his slightly befuddled "Pops" role every few years.

We've had Gil Buckman in Parenthood and George Banks in Father of the Bride -- twice. This time, he's tackling the Clifton Webb role in a remake (in name only) of 1950's Cheaper by the Dozen. It's not really a stretch, but Martin does it so well -- it's just like George Banks, but with more kids.

Would that the rest of the movie even came close.

More than half a century after the first Cheaper by the Dozen, we apparently needed an updated version -- and families with a dozen kids are even more rare these days, so lots of the jokes are of the "can you believe they have TWELVE children" variety.

This time, we got director Shawn Levy, fresh off his Ashton Kutcher flick, Just Married. It's a relatively harmless way to spend a little under two hours, and it's a heartwarming movie you can watch with the kids.

I just hoped for more. With a dozen kids there was plenty of opportunity for young actors to shine, but with the exception of Forrest Landis as Mark Baker and Alyson Stoner as Sarah, everyone's forced into a line here, a line there.

And the best-known young actors, Kutcher and Hilary Duff, brought in to boost the young audience, are the ones who fare worst -- Duff, especially, falls back on slapstick mannerisms instead of making something out of her fluff.

Holding all the chaos together are Martin as Division III football coach Tom Baker and Bonnie Hunt as wife Kate, a woman who's raising the kids, organizing the husband and somehow finding time to write a book about it all.

When Tom gets his dream job as a Division I coach at his alma mater, and the family moves to Chicago, things fall apart. The kids hate their new schools, the neighbors hate the Bakers (who now live in a house that's a true tribute to big-time coach housing allowances) and Mom's suddenly sent out on a book tour by her publishing house.

Everything, of course, goes down the tubes.

Which brings up some questions: What exactly has Tom done all these years at home? At what age are these kids expected to pitch in? Mom's only asking for two weeks "off" after 20-plus years on the job?

I quibble, I guess. Movies like Cheaper by the Dozen aren't made to be analyzed. And, as a flick to watch with the kids in tow (I can vouch that 2-year-olds find it amusing), it's a good accompaniment to some buttered popcorn and Jujubes.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 20 November 2004

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