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Cheaper by the Dozen returns with a number 2 after its name, instead of a more honest Spaceballs inspired moniker like “The Search for More Money”. The script is, as you might expect, a manipulative piece of crap designed specifically to hit all the usual touchy-feely, emotional notes that’ll appeal to big, blubbery saps. Count me as one of the big and blubbery, because though everything I’ve just said is true, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 got to me too.
The film works because Steve Martin is good and Bonnie Hunt is good and Superman is good looking and Eugene Levy isn’t doing his usual boring, played out shtick. There’s too much talent in this movie for it to utterly fail, and there’s just enough decent material in the script to make it passably good. But it starts out pretty bad. Really bad in fact.
The movie opens with an awkward setup in which the entire family from the first film is forcibly relocated to a big house in the woods for a get-together. They show up at the lake house where they’ve vacationed in years past, amidst a lot of gooey speeches about old times and how sad Steve Martin is that a couple of his kids are growing up. As his movie wife Bonnie Hunt wisely points out, it’s not like they don’t have more.
The entire family, two parents, twelve kids, a dog, and a son-in-law arrive at their traditional vacation spot where they’re accosted by an old competitor of Steve’s, played by Eugene Levy. He’s got a bigger house on lake and (at least on the surface) better kids too. Steve can’t stand him, and so embarks on a mission to beat him at his own game by competing against his family in an annual lake competition. Sack races ensue.
It’s not much of a setup, this might have been Earnest Goes to Camp, except in between all that the movie hits a series of predictable highlights that the cast pulls off so well that you might find yourself sucked into it. There’s a first love, a rebellious teen, a rascally prankster, and even an inconvenient birth. I’m not going to tell you this is a movie full of laughs, but there is laughter. Nor am I going to try to sell this as some sort of great, meaningful opus, but it’s not without heart.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is predictable, manipulative, and probably funded by the Taliban, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it. Steve Martin, even in the Chevy Chase stage of his once great career is still an absolute genius performer. The guy’s a gamer, and he never misses a beat. Adam Shankman knows how to direct this dung, and he successfully minimizes the stink. This is quick, cheap, forgettable family entertainment at its most bearable. There are worse ways to spend your Christmas.