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Cheaper by the Dozen

  Cheaper by the Dozen
Steve Martin works his job at the drive through.

© 2003, Fox
All Rights Reserved

Thomas (Steve Martin, unfunny again!) and Kate (Bonnie "national treasure" Hunt) Baker are in love. So much so that they've brought 12 children (including Tom Welling, Hilary Duff, and Piper Perabo) into the world during the course of their marriage. After creating a well-oiled machine of a family life, the Bakers are suddenly at odds when a job offer takes the family from rural Illinois to suburban Chicago. When Kate finds a publisher for her memoirs, she takes off on a book tour and leaves Thomas alone to take charge of the kids. He can't find a balance between his work and the considerable job of supervising the children, so the family unit breaks down, leaving Thomas and Kate in the unenviable position of having to reevaluate their professional choices.

20th Century Fox had a mighty property in their hands with "Cheaper by the Dozen" (IMDb listing). Based on the true story of Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth (who inspired a 1950 film of the same title), the inner workings of an overflowing house held together by love are ready for a contemporary exploration. The new "Cheaper" has 12 kids of all ages and two parents who love each other, but that's it for similarities. The current "Cheaper" is yet another of the witless "Home Alone" clones that Fox loves to churn out every other year to find out if audiences are still into nonstop pratfalls and elaborate kid pranks.

Fox company man Shawn Levy (the rancid "Big Fat Liar") directs without an ounce of artistic substance. Blindly following the tired script by Craig Titley ("Scooby-Doo"), Levy isn't skilled at bringing his own vision to the screen. He got away with some laughs in last winter's mildly enjoyable "Just Married," but it all seems like one big Ashton Kutcherized (who appears here unbilled) fluke now. "Cheaper" reveals Levy for what he really is: just another hack who is petrified of coloring outside the lines. There is a goldmine of material floating around the "Cheaper" pool of creativity, including an opportunity to investigate how a family like this might actually work in today's society. Outside of one throwaway comment by an outsider calling the Bakers "irresponsible," there isn't much here in the realm of reality. So what do we get in the trade off? Vomit jokes, comical dog bites, chandelier swinging, vasectomy visual gags, and heavy-handed morals on family life behind every corner - not the stuff that classic films are made of. Levy is playing down to his family audience, trying to scrape up something we've all seen before, so "Cheaper" will be instantly likable. It's reckless direction in a film that has all the inspiration of an unsharpened pencil.

Levy also has difficulty drumming up sympathy for the kids of the Baker family. The plot is supposed to be something vague about Thomas's continual neglect of his children. The film actually features Thomas trying courageously to keep food on his family's table while the children continually whine and lack even a bone of selflessness between them. 95 minutes watching these kids overact irrationally to each one of life's little left turns is such torture that the whole vasectomy idea seems like it might not be such a bad alternative after all.

Perennial movie-saver Bonnie Hunt wins the MVP award in "Cheaper," using her moments onscreen the best she can to toss in something that resembles humor and warmth. She outshines everybody, and Shawn Levy had better thank his lucky stars Hunt came to the rescue, otherwise "Cheaper by the Dozen" could easy qualify as being as irresponsible as the Bakers' mating habits.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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