July 15, 2004 -- “Cheaper by the Dozen” is a theatrical movie release that looks a lot like a made-for-television comedy. This mostly slapstick effort has a sloppy script with mostly self-absorbed characters who are hard to empathize with. The old-fashioned philosophy behind it, that you have to choose between family and career, is creaky and dated. It almost seems as if this comedy came out of a 1950s time warp.
Steve Martin (“Bowfinger”) and Bonnie Hunt (“Return to Me”) star as parents of 12 kids who move to a new city so Tom (Martin) can take his dream job of coaching his old college team. Meanwhile, Kate (Hunt) finds out that her book is about to be published and she is slated for a two-week promotional tour. That means Tom has to take care of the kids for two weeks, coach his new team and handle the press conferences and other matters a new head coach must handle. He gives it a game effort, but is not up to the task. Part of his problem is that the kids do not want to move and they sabotage him at every turn. In most large families, the older siblings help take care of the younger ones. That doesn't happen here because the oldest girl, 22, Nora (Piper Perabo of “Coyote Ugly”) is living on her own and just landed a new job. The other two older kids, Charlie (Tom Welling of the “Smallville” TV show) and Lorraine (Hilary Duff of “Agent Cody Banks”) are unusually spoiled for children in a large family. They behave exactly as if each of them is an only child. They aren't much help with the family's crisis. Most of the rest of the kids are like the kids in the Rugrats cartoon, except for Mark (Forrest Landis), who is treated the proverbial red-headed step-child, nicknamed “Fedex” to explain how his misfit genetics wound up with this family.
Most of the humor in the movie is of the slapstick variety. The gags are hit and miss. The drama comes from the crisis surrounding both parents wanting to balance their new careers with their responsibilities as parents. The movie tries to argue that such a balance is impossible. The other thing that seems to create most of the problems for the kids in the movie is the difficulty of changing schools. This, like balancing careers and parenthood, is depicted as an insurmountable problem. Millions of kids change schools every year. Millions of parents juggle careers and family. These are common problems, not the crises depicted in the film. Now if both parents had lost their jobs, or lost their health insurance, or there was a serious injury, or some family member was arrested, or got hooked on drugs, that would be a crisis, but changing schools? Please. The kids in this movie end up staging what amounts to a temper tantrum that lasts most of the movie. It's just not that funny.
The lead actors, Martin, Hunt, Perabo and little Forrest Landis all give solid performances. Most of the rest of the characters in the film are inconsistent at best, and most are very thin. Good comedy is derived from the characters, but this film doesn't establish its characters well enough to be effective on that level. This film rates a C. If you want to see a good comedy about families starring Steve Martin, see “Parenthood.”
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