Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for language and some crude humor
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Tom Welling, Piper Perabo, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Duff, Kevin Schmidt, Alyson Stoner, Jacob Smith, Morgan York, Forrest Landis, Blake Woodruff, Brent Kinsman, Shane Kinsman 
Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Sam Harper, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow
Review published January 2, 2004

Cheaper by the Dozen shows the reason why normal television sitcoms last only 22 minutes, taking out the commercials.  Imagine if they took an episode of the "Brady Bunch", and padded it with an extra seventy minutes of scenes where the kids acted like brats or made a mess of the house, and you'll begin to see how tedious the prospect of sitting through this film is.

It's a remake of sorts, originally done as a film back in 1950, based on the novel by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth about their real family, but outside of the 12 kids angle, there's really not much similarity.  Instead, this film is about the Baker family (Baker's dozen...get it?), who move from the rural Illinois town of Midland to the big city of Chicago when the father, Tom (Steve Martin, Bowfinger), gets his dream job coaching a college football team, his own alma mater.  It's a great house in a great neighborhood, but the family misses their old life, especially now that daddy's busy coaching, and mommy (Bonnie Hunt, Jumanji) is busy on a book tour hocking her best-seller on parenting.  The formerly tight-knit family finds itself spread pretty thin, forcing a decision as to whether to follow the path to success, or retreat back into a smaller scope while raising the children.

Everything proceeds according to formula lines, and as long as you expect little more than completely standard, homogenized for easy family consumption fare, I suppose you'll get the mindless entertainment you seek.  There's good casting among the kids, and it's good to see some easily recognized names among them like Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly), Hilary Duff (Agent Cody Banks), and Tom Welling (TV's "Smallville").  Ashton Kutcher (Just Married) appears uncredited, but has a sizable role as Perabo's narcissistic boyfriend. 

There isn't much in terms of plot, as much of the film follows the bratty antics of the spoiled children.  In many ways, it recalls Eddie Murphy's similar recent film, Daddy Day Care, with the father alone trying to cope with a house full of unruly kids. Speaking of Murphy, one might wonder if Martin made a pact with him during Bowfinger to alternately appear as the father in every major family film since.

Cheaper by the Dozen adheres religiously to formula, showcasing the children either as adoringly cute or rude brats to elicit audience reaction, while keeping the peppy pop tunes cranking to simulate a good time at the movies.  It could have been passably amusing, but without much in laughs, and a descent into misguided schmaltz near the end, it's an excruciating watch for anyone who doesn't dig smart-mouthed kids misbehaving.  In the end, the film recalls the contents of another "Baker's Dozen", donuts - - - saturated with sweetness on the outside, but completely hollow at its core. 

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo