Fox // 2005 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // May 23rd, 2006
"Cause you taught us there's no way to be a perfect parent but a million ways to be a pretty good one."
From time to time we receive a press release with our DVD screener. In most cases it's just a few pages long. The press release that came with Cheaper by the Dozen 2 embraced its title and landed with a resounded thud of 25 pages. I perused its passages, reading all about the movie, the actors, and every crewperson down to the best boy; but what caught my eye was a passage regarding Steve Martin's career. Over the three pages dedicated to Steve, many of his movies from The Man With Two Brains to Shopgirl to The Pink Panther get a nice bit of detail. Then we have this passage tying things up:
"Martin's other films include Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors, in which he played a demented dentist; John Hughes' Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, co-starring John Candy; and the comic Western send-up The Three Amigos, also starring Marin [sic] Short and Chevy Chase."
Are you now asking, "So what? What's the big deal?" Considering how much detail most of the other films in this release received, I found it humorous that these three films in particular received such short shrift; for in our Jury Room -- and in casual conversation in my personal neck of the woods -- these three films are comedy classics, widely adored and discussed, and considered some of Martin's best. But in this press release they're apparently not.
Empty nest syndrome invades the Baker residence as the family is in flux. Oldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo, The Cave) is pregnant, and she and her husband Bud are going to move to Houston in the fall. Then there's Lorraine (Hillary Duff, A Cinderella Story), she's just graduated from high school and has accepted an internship for Allure Magazine in New York City. And Charlie (Tom Welling, Smallville), the eldest son, he's already attending college, now working as a mechanic to pay the college bills.
Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt, Stolen Summer) decide that the family needs one last, grand vacation together before they all go their separate ways. Everyone agrees to go back to Lake Winnetka for the last family vacation.
Once there, Tom meets up with his longtime nemesis Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy, American Pie. The sparks fly as the overachieving Murtaughs clash with the freewheeling Bakers. Eventually things will come to a head as the two families compete for the coveted Winnetka Cup.
That almost felt like a press release, just not quite as gushy.
I saw the original Cheaper by the Dozen when it appeared on cable. I'm usually not one for family fare, but I'm paying $100 for cable so I better watch the "new" movies that show up to get some bang for my buck. Besides, I figured with Steve Martin, it has a small chance of being mildly interesting. He's done some good films, but his latest comedies (Bringing Down the House, Bowfinger) haven't clicked with me. But still, it's Steve Martin, who will always get lots of leeway for his awesome role in All of Me. (Bet you didn't think I'd pick that one!) Sitting down with a friend, the movie begins and chaos reigns supreme in the opening minutes. You have 12 kids, two parents, a dog, and a frog turning breakfast into Custer's Last Stand. I loved the mayhem and the destruction in this scene, and it kept me around for the rest of the film, which ends up going down many familiar, clichéd roads.
And so the sequel travels down the same roads. Cheaper by the Dozen 2, or Cheaper 2 (from the press release) or C2 (the director's preference), wasn't spawned because its parent's film sailed into uncharted waters. The first one was predictable, this sequel is predictable, and any follow-ups will surely do the same. You can foresee every twist from miles away. It's safe, familiar, easy-to-digest, light, family comedy. C2 is another in a long line of movies playing it safe, giving just enough to keep the average moviegoer satisfied. When all is said and done, we have this movie only because the first one pulled in a lot of money.
Is that a good enough reason for a sequel? Not really. Luckily, the grand Baker clan of 14 is filled with some pretty likable people. That's why I came back for the sequel. I enjoyed the riotous frenzy of dysfunction in the Baker family. I liked who they were, how they behaved, and more simply, I liked the actors. Somehow all of the original actors are back on board in C2, and it's good to see them up to no good once again. (The only person who bowed out is Ashton Kutcher, who played Nora's self-centered boyfriend in the original. Obviously Mr. Moore is now too big for such pedantic fare.) They all interact well, have fun with their parts, and act as they've known each other forever -- like a real family. Surprisingly, it's not the big names that make this movie work. The surprise star in this one is Alyson Stoner, who plays tomboy Sarah. This time around, we get to see her with her first crush (with a Murtaugh!), flowering into young womanhood. She provides the only true heartfelt moments in the movie. Other scenes and other moments feel forced and phony, but Sarah's battle of hormones versus an overprotective father is genuine and endearing. It's an unexpected but welcome respite in the middle of the tornado.
One of the basic facts in these movies is that there are 12 kids. Ma and Pa Baker had lots of fun and, viola!, we have a dozen rugrats. But in true sequel fashion, C2 ups that ante. In addition to the Baker's dozen, the Murtaugh clan introduces eight more kids. That's right. There are 20 kids bouncing around the screen at one time. Toss in the adults, and you have 25 different characters to follow. Though, in reality, only two of the Murtaugh kids do anything of note, so you only have 19 characters to follow. Most of the time, they are just background noise, including the role of Sarina Murtaugh, played with delightful charm by Carmen Electra (Baywatch). Carmen plays Eugene Levy's trophy wife, his fourth wife actually, and she does a convincing job of being over her head yet also tough enough to keep Mr. Murtaugh in line.
When I opened my screener, I had a moment of shock. Inside the case were two discs. "Oh no," I thought. "Two discs for this film? How could they do this to me?" After catching my breath and taking a moment to look at the discs, I discovered that Fox has graciously included both a widescreen and a full screen disc. I wasn't sure if this was just for us DVD reviewers, since some online retailer's details are sketchy and contradictory, but I believe this is how the product is to be sold. Eschewing the evil full frame disc (which I'm debating either using as a Frisbee or giving to my parents), I watched the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen version and was pleased with the results. It's an acceptable transfer with accurate colors, deep blacks, solid details, and no significant errors. I was a bit surprised to not be more impressed with the look of the movie, as outdoor/nature scenes are usually spectacularly vivid on DVD. They aren't here, but there's still nothing wrong with the video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also is free of any hiss or distortion, and the dialogue-intensive film comes through loud and clear. There's minimal use of the surrounds and subwoofer, but they have a few seconds to do its thing -- namely the explosion. Yes, there's a halfway decent explosion in the film.
The DVD comes with only three bonus items. First up is an audio commentary by director Adam Shankman (The Pacifier, Bringing Down the House). I really liked his casually informative and funny discussion about the movie. He shared all types of details from the people to the production. Especially informative were his insights on making it appear that Tom Welling and Hillary Duff were there for the entire shoot, when each was only available for the first two weeks. His happy, cheeky commentary gets a bit weak in the last thirty minutes, but that could be because he was just really hungry. Next we have two featurettes, "Camp Chaos" (10 minutes) and "A Comedic Trio" (5.5 minutes). Both are a bit on the PR fluffy side as "Chaos" talks about working with such a large cast and "Trio" talks about having three amazing comedians (Martin, Hunt, and Levy) as the headliners in the film. Neither is particularly deep or insightful. Also included but not really counting as a real bonus item is the "Inside Look" promo reel for Flicka and Aquamarine. I was disappointed that there weren't any deleted scenes or more outtakes included. These are hinted at in the featurettes, so why not put them in?
The same silly stunts. The same bad jokes. The same nonsensical madness. The same Steve Martin in physical pratfalls. Same. Same. Same. If you've seen the first movie or if you've seen just about another other "safe" family feature film, then you've seen everything that Cheaper by the Dozen 2 has to offer. It's a complete retread of bland, banal movie programming that is spit up and tossed at the audiences year after year. Just because you overload the screen with two dozen people doesn't make it any more interesting. Stop doing the same thing over and over again and give us something new, fresh, and interesting in the way of family films.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is an amalgamation of what has been done before. There isn't anything new or innovative in the movie, but is that the point? Not this time. It's just meant to be a simple showcase of family antics for a family to enjoy. And in that simplest sense, C2 succeeds. It's a charming, harmless, feel good movie that will put a smile on your face. It's comedy and it's chaos; but it's also a slight attempt to show that it's important to pay attention to your kids. It a comparison of parental styles, showing the strengths and weaknesses of each -- exaggerated ten fold, of course. So maybe there is a bit more in there, hidden under 20 kids. But in either case, C2 is simple fun. For that reason, I give it a rental recommendation.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is hereby found guilty of sugar overload.
Review content copyright © 2006 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary by Director Adam Shankman
* "Camp Chaos"
* "A Comedic Trio"
* Inside Look