If your post-holiday shopping includes looking for a fun family film that'll
have your brood laughing no matter what their ages, then the movie for you this
Christmas season is CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN. A remake of the 1950 film with Steve
Martin playing the Clifton Webb part of the father of an extra large,
economy-sized family, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN is directed with gusto by Shawn Levy
(BIG FAT LIAR). Not taking itself seriously until its predictably
message-laden last act, the movie is unabashedly slapstick. And it's a lot of
Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt play Tom and Kate Baker, a pair of patient parents
who set out to have eight kids but overachieve, ending up with twelve. When we
meet them, Kate is slinging toast like Frisbees to her small army of munchkins,
while overhead the family frog is about to take a flying leap into a big bowl
of scrambled eggs, turning their breakfast into their usual family disaster.
Other than sometimes asking the littlest of the Bakers to mouth overly
complicated lines, the movie is as misstep free as it is pratfall happy.
Hilary Duff, of "Lizzie McGuire" fame, is uncharacteristically given a
relatively minor role as Lorraine, the second daughter and the "self-appointed
coordinator of health and hygiene" for the family. Lorraine also has the
thankless and hopeless job as the family's fashionista. Duff is quite cute in
her small part, something that can't be said of Piper Perabo, who plays the
oldest daughter, Nora. Perabo's lame acting reminds us of why, even with
several juicy roles, she has never been able to break through to anything even
remotely approaching stardom. Ashton Kutcher, playing Nora's boyfriend Hank,
is terrific in a self-mocking part as a would-be actor who is thoroughly in
love with his own image.
The story has the family moving from their small, overcrowded house to a
spacious mansion after dad gets a college coaching job and mom lands a book
deal. Of course, the kids will spend most of the movie pining for their old
homestead and the simpler lifestyle that went with it.
Living in a family eleven kids shy of the Baker's dozen, we laughed most at an
only-child joke. "How come we didn't have more kids?" Dylan Shenk (Steven
Anthony Lawrence), a rich, nerdy, chinless kid, asks his preppy mom (Paula
Marshall) after the Bakers move into their tony neighborhood. "Because we
wanted one perfect kid, and that's what we got." My wife and I harassed our
son at this point in the movie by simultaneously patting him on his shoulders
and giving him a sarcastic smile.
The movie is filled with funny moments, but the one I thought was the cutest
involved Nora and Hank, both in their early twenties. When they start kissing
on the sofa, Kate treats them like wayward cats. Clapping her hands together
loudly, she commands in a booming voice, "Nora, stop!" You should stop too.
Stop by after Christmas and treat your family to this nice little comedy.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN runs 1:38. The film is rated PG for "language and some
thematic elements" and would be acceptable for all ages.
My son Jeffrey, age 14, thoroughly enjoyed the picture and gave it ***. He
thought it was funny, sweet and great fun. He especially liked the good
chemistry among the siblings.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes