Cheaper by the Dozen

Here's how Cheaper by the Dozen works: with every kid present in the film, the overall tone becomes less amusing. As the title implies, there are twelve children, which makes for a pretty lame movie. The film is even worse considering its pedigree, it is a loose remake of the cherished original from 1950, based on the book by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, which was based on their life. This remake casts the Bakers (thankfully the producers avoided the awfully punny and obvious title) who live in rural (and idyllic) Illinois, only to move to Chicago to see their carefully orchestrated lives quickly fall apart in the manner most amusing for a generic family comedy. Before the move, Tom (Steve Martin, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Bringing Down the House) coaches for a Division III football team, and Kate (Bonnie Hunt, Stolen Summer, Monster's Inc.) stays at home with the kids, slowly working on a book about the family. This gives them both ample time to take care of their brood.

Tom's dream was always to coach for his alma mater, and his old teammate Shake (Richard Jenkins, Intolerable Cruelty, The Core) gives him the opportunity to do so. Tom doesn't want to miss the opportunity to fulfill his dream, and when he finds out that he will be given a big salary and a big house, he and Kate decide it is best for the family. Of course, the children hate being uprooted. Charlie (Tom Welling), the second oldest, is a senior in high school, leaving behind a quarterback position and his girlfriend. Needless to say, he is a tad peeved. Once they get there, there is the typical culture shock of moving from the farm to the city, and then Kate discovers that her publisher wants to put her on a book tour that starts as a weekend and keeps getting longer. Tom, not wanting his wife to miss out on her dream, encourages her to go, saying that he can handle the children. Well, if it isn't already obvious, he cannot, and eventually no one watching cares.

Director Shawn Levy (Just Married, Big Fat Liar) is aiming this film directly at children. This means that when Tom takes over, anarchy breaks out and all sorts of messy hijinks ensue. Most of the children make no lasting impact. Lorraine (Hilary Duff, The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Agent Cody Banks) is the only other child in high school, and she's a fashion expert. Sarah (Alyson Stoner) is one of the larger troublemakers and Henry (Kevin Schmidt, Mind Rage). There are two twins, some other random children, and Mark (Forrest Landis), one of the youngest children who always feels left out. His only friend seems to be his mom and his pet frog, so when Kate leaves for the tour, he begins feeling very lonely. The oldest kid, Nora (Piper Perabo, Slap Her She's French, Lost and Delirious) is already out of the house, living with her boyfriend Hank (Ashton Kutcher, My Boss's Daughter, Just Married), whom the other children detest. They enjoy playing all sorts of cruel tricks on him whenever he visits.

Now it's ironic that Kutcher, by far the most amusing actor here, goes uncredited in what amounts to a self-deprecating extended cameo. Hank is an actor, and none too bright. He realizes that his roles come from his looks and not his ability, and even says so. Oh, what true words. The script, by the assembly line of Craig Titley (Scooby-Doo, See Spot Run), Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (Goodbye Lover, Money Talks), and Sam Harper (Just Married, Rookie of the Year) is just a series of gags ending with a big family togetherness moment. The gist of the story is that the Bakers need to become one big, happy, thermonuclear family again, so amidst all the arguing and chaos something sad needs to happen to pull them all together. Martin and Hunt are nice together, but are basically on autopilot. Everything feels too much like a sitcom. It's fine on television, but not 'good' enough to merit a movie.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated PG for language and some thematic elements.

Back to Movies