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Too many characters and too many times learning the obvious lesson the second time around
on 26 May 2006
I was rather surprised that I could not warm up to a family comedy that has Bonnie Hunt in it, not to mention Steve Martin and Eugene Levy, but "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" rubbed me the wrong way pretty much from the start. Tom Baker (Martin) and his wife Kate (Hunt) are sending their third oldest child, Lorraine (Hilary Duff), and this is apparently the threshold for Tom to start experiencing something along the lines of "empty nest" syndrome, even with another nine kids at home. So suddenly the most important thing in the world to Dad is for the entire Baker clan to head up to Lake Winnetka for the summer so they can all be together for what might be the last time (pretend like this is a reasonable idea).
This is enough of a hurdle, since forcing people to have a good time does not really work. But when they get up to the lake Tom discovers that Jimmy Murtaugh (Levy), his third wife, Sarina (Carmen Electra), and his eight children are already there. Jimmy has the biggest house on the lake, owns most of the property around the lake, and always wins "the cup" at the friendly family competition each summer. As if not forcing people to have fun is not bad enough, now Tom wants to force his brood to have fun competing against the Murtaughs. Meanwhile the kids from the two families are having fun getting together and doing kid things while their fathers critique each other's abilities and track records as parents. It was really hard to stop cringing when these fathers go off the deep ends like that and even though a lot of what happens here is predictable and you know that everything will work out okay in the end, that does not make what Tom is doing right.
Another problem is that this is a movie that has Hillary Duff and Tom Welling show up again, and then gives them basically nothing to do, because there are now TWENTY children running around in this film, to go with the four adults (hey, that would be the "Dozen 2" they talk about in the title, right?). Of course, that is going to happen when you are talking about a family with a dozen children. Give each one five minutes of screen time and that is an hour of your film right there. But when Martin and Levy trying to outdo each other, that is never going to happen. Piper Perabo as Nora Baker-McNulty gets a bit more to do because she is carrying the first Baker grandchild, but on balance these three had little reason to do the film. In fact they are third level characters.
The first level are the parents and the second level ends up belonging to young Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner), who is Daddy's little practical joker until she sees young Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner). However, the two families are making like the Capulets and Montagues, with Tom forbidding the children to play with each other before the big competition. Still, Sarah asks her father if it is okay if she goes to a movie with Eliot and Tom finally remembers what being a father is all about and starts to thaw back into his true self. Duff's big scene in the film is actually to help Sarah get ready for her first date and to read the riot act to the rest of the family right before Sarah has her big moment (If you are my age it is the Eliza Doolittle moment when Audrey Hepburn walks down the stairs for the Embassy Ball right before the intermission of "My Fair Lady," but if you are Sarah's age then it is the Hermoine Granger moment when Emma Watson appears on the steps at Hogswart to attend the Yule Ball in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
The subplot with Sarah and any time Bonnie Hunt looks at somebody are the best parts of this movie, but it is not enough to make it really enjoyable for me. There are enough problems with having twelve children without creating some for yourself, but that is what this script makes Tom Baker do. Even worse, this is the sort of film where when he gets to the low point and finally realizes how wrong he has been, he gets to have his cake and eat it too. Well, almost, because this is a film that makes him realize not once, but twice, how the importance of family trumps everything else. I would have rounded up on this 2005 family comedy because of Alyson Stoner, but when Tom lhad to learn the obvious lesson a second time I had to reverse course.