If placed alongside each other in a race to see which was the better film, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" would narrowly beat 2003's "Cheaper by the Dozen
," but that's like comparing diarrhea to constipation. Directed by Adam Shankman (2005's "The Pacifier
"), who is fast becoming the go-to guy for junky, condescending family movies with little merit, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is the latest depressing and wholly unnecessary sequel to come out of Hollywood, one that would make the viewer embarrassed for the actors if it weren't for what could only have been really, really fat paychecks. Sure, Steve Martin (2005's "Shopgirl
"), Bonnie Hunt (1999's "The Green Mile
") and Eugene Levy (a glutton for punishment, with 2004's "New York Minute
" and 2005's "The Man
" also on his résumé in the last year) belittle their spry talents by appearing, but at least they won't be going hungry anytime soon.
For better or worse, the Baker clan is backheads of the household Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) and their dozen children ranging in age from early twenties to six. When third-born Lorraine (Hilary Duff) graduates from high school and starts making plans to move to Manhattan for an internship, Tom and Kate realize that this might be their last chance for the entire family to spend some quality time together. In turn, they pack everyone up and head for Lake Winnetka, a long-standing Baker vacation destination. Once there, they realize a lot has changed, including a new swanky private resort on the other side of the lake run by Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), Tom's adversary since high school. The Bakers' week of togetherness and tranquility is about to become a cutthroat competition with the Murtaughs to see which is the top family.
As benefits a desperate sequel that didn't have enough story to tell in the first film, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is shallow, meandering, predictable, padded, and jam-packed with one unfunny, hoarily conceived slapstick bit or pratfall after the next. Consider Tom's attempt to keep an eye on prepubescent daughter Sarah (Alyson Stoner) and her crush, Eliot (Taylor Lautner), by tagging all when they go knee-boarding. As amateur Tom gets whipped around violently in the water as he hangs on for dear life behind the zooming boat, director Adam Shankman does absolutely zilch to make the circumstance funny and, instead, calls to mind a similar, far more amusing scene with John Candy in 1988's "The Great Outdoors." Or take another scene in which some of the kids cause chaos at a barbecue, setting off fireworks that push a wheelchair-bound guest into the lake. Whatever humor is supposed to be derived from this violent gag goes unnoticed.
Another scene, set in a movie theater as Tom and Jimmy spy on the young couple from the balcony, rudely disrupting the other patrons and then disgusting them when they mistake the middle-aged men's harmless actions for sexual ones, is unforgivable. Flagrant homophobia does not have a place in the family film marketthe theater audience's reactions of contempt are just plain creepynor does a complete disregard for authority from the adult characters who are supposed to be setting a positive example.
As patriarch Tom Baker, Steve Martin scrunches his face up in a variety of strained expressions as he tries to get humor where there is none. He fails. Is this the same actor who was so nuanced and effective in "Shopgirl
?" As wise matriarch Kate, Bonnie Hunt gets to retain a little more dignity since she at least has one good scenea heart-to-heart with blossoming tomboy Sarah where she tells her daughter how beautiful she really is. The warm-hearted moment is compromised by overpoweringly schmaltzy music strings, but in dreck like this, you take what you can get or risk going insane from the surrounding idiocy.
All twelve of the children also return, with Alyson Stoner getting the most significant role as Sarah; Tom Welling (TV's "Smallville," 2005's "The Fog
"), as eldest son Charlie, further proving that success on a television show doesn't always parlay into features; Piper Perabo (2005's "The Cave
") as very pregnant oldest daughter Nora; and Hilary Duff (2005's "The Perfect Man
"), looking tired and cursed with bad hairstyles unintentionally funnier than anything else in the movie, as fashion-concious Lorraine. She should have realized what was on top of her head looked like a dead mangy animal. The rest of the young actors are inconsequential, herded into rooms like cattle to spout off a line and then shuffling away together. Oddly enough, Carmen Electra (2004's "Starsky & Hutch
") probably turns in the movie's best performance as Jimmy Murtaugh's much younger wife, Sarina, who actually is written to resemble a real person rather than a brain-dead dummy.
Written without any understanding of how actual families correlate and interact, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" fixes few of the problems of the contemptible original picture
2003's worst family filmbut isn't as consistently hateful as it is eye roll-inducing. Tired cliches run rampantdoes every movie of this ilk require a comic relief animal, in this case a pesky rodent?all leading up to the inevitable scene where Nora gives birth and, wouldn't you know it, names her son Tom Jr. 20th Century Fox should be ashamed of themselves, burying the year's best family release, "Little Manhattan
," in a handful of theaters and letting it die, while unleashing this wasteful dreck on thousands upon thousands of screens where it will no doubt make a pretty penny. With the one-two punch of the awful "Yours, Mine and Ours
" and the equally terrible "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" coming out a month apart, let's hope the fad of making hectic kid flicks about rowdy extended families has finally run its course.