Cheaper by the Dozen

I read Cheaper by the Dozen as a child and was fascinated by the efficiency the Gilbreth family displayed despite 12 kids. 12 kids, think about this. The Gilbreths maintained order and the parents didn't kill anybody! Heck, my two daughters can make my house look like a third world country before The Rugrats credit reel runs.

The 2nd movie version of Cheaper by the Dozen takes a unique approach to its adaptation; change absolutely everything about the book and attempt to cut out all hints of a reasonable plot.

This time around, the family is the Bakers (not the Gilbreths as in the book). The Bakers are a family of 12 from rural Midland, Illinois whose life is a chaotic but loving mess. Tom Baker (Martin) is a small college football coach who receives his dream job offer; coaching his alma mater's team. When Tom accepts the job, the family moves to the big city of Chicago and the kids aren't happy. While this should be chaotic enough, his wife, Kate Baker (Hunt) has a manuscript that finds a publisher, and she leaves immediately for New York to promote the book. Supposed hilarity ensues when dad has to deal with 12 grumpy kids by himself while trying to rebuild his football team.

While humorous at times, the movie languishes as a result of under developed characters, unresolved storylines, and the completely unnecessary Ashton Kutcher.

First, we have the characters. The kids first and foremost are a complete blur. The oldest daughter, Nora, lives out of the house with her boyfriend, Hank (Kutcher in an uncredited roll that was featured prominently in the trailers). Hank really doesn't like kids and Nora is torn in trying to have a new identity with a new job. Kutcher completely takes away time from the Baker kids. If they wanted conflict in Nora's absence, the job could have accomplished that. Instead we get a bad actor in a throwaway role while we should have some character development for the kids. Why is Nora so ready to be away from the family? Why did at least one of the Baker kids never utter a word the entire movie? RIDICULOUS! I can't even tell you the Baker kids’ names without an internet search. Most of the kids are reduced to cheesy stereotypes. But hey, we have the guy from That 70's Show! No, not that Topher guy. No not the guy with the hair or the foreigner. Oh.. yeah.. the himbo. That's gold, Jerry!

Besides the kids, we also have Tom Baker's new boss, Shakes (Jenkins). He was apparently a star football player at the school while Tom was a 3rd stringer. Shakes was everything that Tom wished he was. That's partly why he went into coaching. When do we hear about this? In a throwaway comment during the last ten minutes of the movie.

Actually, Shakes’s character should have been left out of the movie alltogether. Tom Baker obviously spends a lot of time in the movie having to divide the time between being a Dad and being a head football coach. Shakes exists to add friction to these roles. The writers easily could have cut the Shakes character and have Tom's stress self-induced. Most football coaches are workaholics anyways. We know Tom wants this dream job but that he also loves his family. With a primary cast of 14, you should probably cut the extra characters before you turn some of the core characters into background filler.

The 2nd oldest Baker kid is Charlie (Tom Welling), a good looking kid who was quarterback of Midland High. Not only that, but he’s the son of the new big time college coach. Inexplicably, the writers decided he should be picked on by city kids. Yeah most good looking kids, whose dad is a mini-celebrity no less, are immediately treated like a character in Freaks and Geeks. Instead of focusing on the difficulties of leaving his girlfriend back in Midland, we get “farm boy” jokes and a storyline that is never resolved.

Without spoiling the movie, the ending is partially what you expect without the normal writing technique of wrapping up all the loose ends. Hey, we didn’t want any closure, did we?

As disappointing as the writing and directing are, Steve Martin disappoints me the most. I grew up watching The Jerk and Father of the Bride rates as one of my all-time favorites. That Martin is sadly long gone. Not because of diminishing talent, but because of diminishing standards. I’m afraid Martin is interested more in cashing checks than starring in quality films.

In Cheaper by the Dozen, we have a film that hopes you find Steve Martin as endearing as he was in Parenthood or Father of the Bride. Sadly, it falls remarkably short. Cheaper by the Dozen cashes in on a well known name but shortchanges fans with inferior writing and lackluster directing.

With an uninspired movie, did you really expect a phenomenal DVD? Fox breaks the first DVD taboo by making it a flip disc. One side with the 1:85 Jesus approved widescreen and the other with the 1:33 full screen satanic version. The audio is about what you would expect with DVDs nowadays; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, and French. The French think Jerry Lewis is funny so they'll love this!

Cheaper by the Dozen provides minimal extras. We get a director commentary with Shaun Levy and a "Baker Kids" commentary. I can't imagine what's worse: comments from an uninspired director or twelve kids talking at the same time. I think I'll skip the commentary from the guy who also made Just Married. Besides that, we get six deleted scenes and a feature about creating a fictional family. I'm not exactly sure Levy is qualified to make this featurette.

Still, if you like Cheaper by the Dozen go ahead and get the DVD. I hoe you can live with being responsible for Levy getting the director's chair on the new Pink Panther movie. If allowing Levy to ruin another classic doesn't prick your conscience nothing will.