Can someone please pull Steve Martin's career out of the past? Once wild and crazy, Martin's now mild and lazy, a cookie-cutter comedian content to milk mediocre laughs out of reheated remakes of classic flicks. Results vary. Martin's Father of the Bride stayed sweet, while his updated The Out-of-Towners struck a surprisingly unpleasant chord.
Now there's Cheaper by the Dozen, a stale take on Walter Lang's 1950s farce of the same name that is based on the real-life story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the parents of 12 children. Here the original Gilbreth becomes Thomas Baker (Martin). Get it? A Baker's dozen? No, the jokes don't get much better than that one, unless you laugh when an athletic supporter lands in a pot of spaghetti sauce and Martin bellows, "Pasta de la crotch!"
The father of 12, Baker coaches a successful football program in small-town Illinois. His winning ways catch the eye of a Division I college, and Tom is offered a shot at the big time coaching for a larger college outside of Chicago. Meanwhile, his wife, Kate (Bonnie Hunt), somehow found time in between juggling 11 children - one lives on her own - to pursue her own dream and write a book about their family's exploits. More on that later.
One should expect a pillow-soft family comedy when the film opens with generic, factory-made soft rock as its driving soundtrack. "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochrane? "These Are the Days" by 10,000 Maniacs? Seriously, those songs are old enough to have appeared in the first version of this film.
The thought of 13 people living under one roof would provide competent screenwriters with a cornfield of comedy kernels waiting to be harvested. Too bad, Cheaper is more concerned with taking cheap plucks at the withered family heartstring than in funding the true comedic element of life with a herd. Cheaper - well, mainly Hunt - weaves a supportive vibe that director Shawn Levy (no relation to Eugene, unfortunately) sacrifices in favor of organized and amateurish chaos. His humor grows progressively juvenile, his situations entirely sexist. Mom can run the house, but dad's an incompetent boob when left in charge. The "wacky" scenarios trigger slapstick comedy choreography stolen from the Three Stooges. Before long, it stops trying to make sense. Kate launches a book tour overnight, and the trip lasts approximately 12 months. At least, it feels like that long.
As for the Baker brood, few actually carve out lasting personalities. Oldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) lives on her own with her model/actor boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher). Oldest daughter Charlie (Tom Welling) leaves his girlfriend behind in Podunk, Ill., and he can't stop crying about it. Then there's Happy, Dopey and Sleepy, but I forgot what they did or why they were even in the picture. (One of them is tapioca star-of-the-moment Hilary Duff.) Does it really take 12 kids to administer physical pain to cameo clown Kutcher? I know two or three kids who'd do it right now.
What kid won't thrill to the audio commentary track by director Levy on the DVD? There's also one by the kids, you know, for those who didn't get enough screaming in the movie. There's also deleted scenes, a featurette, and about a dozen other bits of saccharine goofiness.
Straight outta CostCo.