Reviewed by GREG KING.
Steve Martin is an erratic and uneven performer, and usually the weaker the script the more frenetic and manic his performance seems to become. With this weak, flat and ultimately unfunny comedy about a family with twelve children who come to appreciate the more important things in life, his survival mannerisms go into overdrive. Martin seems to realise early on that the material is not working, and he struggles to bring some life to the film, but to little avail.
Based on a true story of a turn of the century family, Cheaper By The Dozen was previously filmed in the ’50′s with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. This updated version of the story centres around the Baker family, (mum, dad, and twelve kids) who lead a hectic but idyllic existence in a small Illinois town. But when Tom (Martin) is given the opportunity to coach a University football team, the family reluctantly move to a big house in the city, where they all try to readjust to their new lives. The children are resentful of the forced move, and the first cracks begin to appear in the family solidarity. But then mum (Bonnie Hunt) learns that her memoirs about the trials and tribulations of raising a large family are being published and she has to go to New York to promote the book. Tom is left alone to try and juggle the demands of his job with the demands of caring for twelve precocious, moody and resentful children who try and number of inventive schemes to sabotage the family’s move.
What should have been a promising and quite enjoyable film flounders early, and never recovers. The occasionally episodic film also moves into unnecessarily mawkish, sentimental territory towards the end that strikes a false note. Shawn Levy has previously shown a flair for physical comedy with Big Fat Liar and, to a lesser degree, Just Married, but here his direction lacks flair and inspiration, and the film is flat. As is common practice nowadays, most of the funniest bits from the cinematic trailer are mysteriously missing from the final print.
As the stoic and long-suffering mother, Hunt finds herself stuck in a thankless role, while the majority of the kids are colourless ciphers who fail to leave much of an impression on the derivative material. The solid supporting cast, including Tom Welling (tv’s latest incarnation as Superman in Smallville), Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly, etc) and Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire, Agent Cody Banks, etc), all struggle with their fairly one-dimensional and shallow characterizations.
Audiences looking for far more entertaining family comedies dealing with large families would do well to check out the 1968 Henry Fonda comedy Yours Mine And Ours, or even catch endless repeats of The Brady Bunch on tv.