Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005

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FILM: Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (PG)  D

by Amy Diaz

Steve Martin cuts my beating heart from my chest and Bonnie Hunt sautés it up for dinner in the unnecessary and painful Cheaper by the Dozen 2.

Steve Martin, did you see your own performance in Shopgirl? I mean you’re no Bill Murray but you’re pretty good. Also, I’m guessing you have enough money to get you through the winter. And Bonnie Hunt, why oh why do you continue to let yourself work in crap movies? The “mom” roles are starting to make the “sassy best friend” roles you used to play look like choice parts.

For anyone who’s ever seen either Hunt or Martin do any quality work, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, with its pratfalls and oh-those-wacky-kids moments, is just heartbreakingly bad.

Tom (Martin) and Kate (Hunt) Baker and their dozen children are back from the first movie, though both they and their brood are older. Indeed, oldest Nora (Piper Perabo) is now not just a Baker but also a McNulty and about to spring another McNulty. Realizing that the dozen will soon sprout off in their own directions, Tom and Kate decide to take the whole family to the Wisconsin lake that they remember so fondly.

So, with younguns in tow, the Bakers arrive at their treasured though slightly run-down lake house with bigger names — Charlie (Tom Welling of Smallville) and Lorraine (a 40-year-old-looking Hilary Duff) — more or less sitting out the action, middle children and their antics taking center stage. Of course in a movie destined to have only the mildest kind of family strife all serious misbehaving must come from the outside and involve only the adults. In particular, Tom rekindles a childhood rivalry with the now-ostentatiously wealthy Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), who himself has a healthy-sized family of eight.

The movie, both in concept and in actuality, seems to consist entirely of letting Levy and Martin just be wacky and hope that enough of it is funny to enough people to keep any walking out in disgust (which could affect future sales) to a minimum. Letting two comic actors who tend to overdo it just “be funny” is both lazy and poor planning. With no real plot to keep us interested, the movie depends utterly on the ability of its leads to be funny enough. It took the better part of the 1990s to convince studios that this did not work when that lead was Robin Williams. Will we now have to suffer through another decade of convincing movie makers that this strategy doesn’t really work with anyone else either?