Once upon a time, there was the Gilbreth family, who really did have twelve kids. Two of those kids wrote a book entitled Cheaper by the Dozen, which told about their family growing up. That book was turned into a 1950 film that has some very funny moments before a rather sad ending. In this day and age, everything old is ripe for remakes, so along comes this 2003 remake. Of course, sticking closely to the original is out of the question. So everything, including the names, are changed.
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In this film version, we are introduced to the Baker clan. One of the things that Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) agreed on when they met was their desire to have a large family. Admittedly, they didn't set out to have twelve kids. But they love their family very much. Nora (Piper Perabo), is living on her own with boyfriend Hank (an uncredited Ashton Kutcher), but the other kids are still at home. Yes, this leads to chaos at times, but the clan wouldn't have it any other way.
But then things change. Tom is offered his dream job, coaching football for his alma mater. And Kate's book about their life actually gets published, leading to a national book tour.
At first, everyone is happy by the changes. There's more money and more space in their new, bigger house. But slowly the kids realize that the parents don't have time for them any more. And oldest son Charlie (Tom Welling) has trouble fitting in to his new school. Can they get their parents' attention?
This movie is a pale imitation of the original. Don't get me wrong, there are still some enjoyable parts. The relationship they have with their new next door neighbors was quite fun. And the pranks they pulled on Hank were great as well. And, while the message gets heavy handed by the end, it is always a good reminder.
But that's also part of the problem. Instead of creating true comedy or funny characters, the movie relies on slapstick to make us laugh. Yes, there are some funny moments, but most of them have been done elsewhere.
The movie is fairly predictable. I had most of it pegged 100% in the first twenty minutes. Granted, that isn't a death sentence for me. If you can keep me entertained along the way, I'll forgive the predictability. But this movie was only mildly amusing.
Part of that is because of the number of characters. Naturally, I didn't really expect to get to know all 14 Bakers super well in the 98 minutes of the movie. But instead of focusing on three of four of the kids, it tries to make all of them important. And it fails in this regard. Most of the younger kids are indistinguishable from one another. Heck, there was only one of the youngest 8 I could keep straight, and that was Mark Baker. It wasn't just because of his name, but also because he actually got his own storyline. With the likes of Tom Welling (TV's Smallville) and Hilary Duff (at the time the star of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire) playing some of the kids, I really did expect them to have a bigger role in the story.
Now I'm not knocking any of the actors. They all do a fine job bringing their characters to life. Even the young actors hold their own in this movie. It's just ultimately too busy and franticly paced to be very good.
And I have a serious bone to pick with the plot. Much of the antics start when Kate is away on her book tour. Suddenly, Tom has to be the only adult, and he has no idea how to deal with the kids. Seriously? You expect me to believe that Kate is the only one who has done anything all those years in a house with twelve kids? Now I'll give her plenty of credit for keeping things running. But I don't think Tom would be that clueless.
Complaints aside, I found myself drawn into the climax. And I was rather surprised by just how much the outcome mattered to me. So somewhere along the way, these characters did get under my skin.
There are worse ways to waste your time. But there are also much better movies out there. Unless you are a fan of someone in the cast, you can skip the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.
Read more product reviews on Cheaper by the Dozen (DVD, 2007, Sensormatic; Baker's Dozen Edition; Bonus Disc)
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