Martin reprises the role of Tom Baker, father of twelve and husband to wife Kate (the sparkling, grounded Bonnie Hunt). In an effort to bond the family one final time before grandkids are born and chickens fly the coop, Tom cloyingly convinces the clan to vacation at their old lakefront haunt. There, they meet their nemeses: the clean-cut white-teethed Murtaugh family led by perfectionist papa Jimmy, played by the painfully underutilized Eugene Levy.
The Murtaugh kids study hard, attend Yale and excel at sports. The Baker kids excel at poop jokes. Taking a lifelong rivalry between the dads to its inevitable conclusion, the families prepare for an annual Labor Day competition - one the wealthy Murtaughs win with regularity.
Naturally, there's the obvious male chest thumping, but it's got a pretty tight set of reins on it. The fun amounts to competitive campfire sing-alongs, egg toss training, and flat banter about child-rearing techniques. When the simpleton dialogue isn't distracting you - or your kids, by the way - listening to Martin's plaintive whining and pathetic rah-rah talks might. Screenwriter Sam Harper wrote a lovable family film with his first attempt, Rookie of the Year, but his Cheaper by the Dozen efforts lack all ingenuity and vitality.
Of course, there's always the "meat in the pants" gag to keep the kids laughing. But will they laugh if they've already seen the same trick pulled in the first film? How difficult would it have been to conjure up something else? At least the original movie featured a pair of sauce-soaked underwear and a playfully hammy Ashton Kutcher. This one results in two guys falling off a dock.
In fact, whenever there's a conflict that might find the film's funny bone, it ends with people falling. Off docks, balconies, logs, whatever's available. Other slapstick options for a Tom vs. Jimmy log-rolling contest, which you've probably seen on TV, are many. Sadly, the scene's high point involves one character slipping split-legged and crunching the family jewels.
The potential for creative, appealing, family-targeted laughs is there. But director Adam Shankman takes a poorly timed, easy way out for each gag and the movie suffers. Levy's snarky shrewdness is wasted, as is the quick wit of Bonnie Hunt. Too often, cast members are stuffed onscreen for awkwardly short scenes, resulting in a bunch of family problems solved in ridiculous, faster-than-a-bad-sitcom fashion. If you're a teenager wanting to check out Hilary Duff in this one, don't bother. She has about 6 minutes of screen time.
Points are scored for Hunt, sharp and sensitive, and Carmen Electra as Murtaugh's new trophy wife. But what to make of Steve Martin? His recent work has two sides: misfiring family films and more mature material like Shopgirl. Perhaps there's an artistic middle somewhere with a movie like the un-PC Bringing Down the House (a far better Adam Shankman film). Regardless, with more family-friendly movies in Steve Martin's future, upcoming attempts have gotta be better than this. Even the bloopers during the closing credits stink.
Duff studies the script.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st December 2005
Box Office USA: $82.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $129.2M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 6%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 87
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenwriter: Sam Harper
Starring: Steve Martin as Tom Baker, Eugene Levy as Jimmy Murtaugh, Bonnie Hunt as Kate Baker, Tom Welling as Charlie Baker, Jonathan Bennett as Bud McNulty, Forrest Landis as Mark Baker, Carmen Electra as Sarina Murtaugh, Taylor Lautner as Eliot Murtaugh, Jacob Smith as Jake Baker, Kevin G. Schmidt as Henry Baker, Brent Kinsman as Nigel Baker, Brent and Shane Kinsman as Kyle Baker, Blake Woodruff as Mike Baker, Alexander Conti as Kenneth Murtaugh, Matthew Knight as Theatre Kid, Hilary Duff as Lorraine Baker, Alyson Stoner as Sarah Baker, Morgan York as Kim Baker, Liliana Mumy as Jessica Baker, Robbie Amell as Daniel Murtaugh, Adam Shankman as Clam Bake Chef, Piper Perabo as Nora Baker-McNulty
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