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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Cheaper by the Dozen

Posted By on Wed, Dec 31, 2003 at 12:00 AM

In a day and age when families with one to three children are the norm, and two incomes a must, 12 kids (with the same mother—ouch!) comes off even more planet wacky than it did in 1950, the first time this film was made. This time around, the Gilbreths are the Bakers, a loving, easygoing couple packing up their country herd and moving to the big city for dad’s dream job.

It’s only appropriate that I watched this during a moms and babies screening. With my seat kicked and pulled, screams shooting over and around my head from on- and off-screen, I wondered what had I done that was so wrong to deserve this watery fate. Cheaper by the Dozen is yet another fast-food film, going through the motions of a plot with milk-and-cupcake dialogue that leaves you dry and crusty. Like when the noses-in-the-air neighbors come to greet the newly arrived couple with their Baker’s dozen; an impromptu floor hockey game comes to a head when the preppy neighbor kid and Steve Martin, father of the brood, end up hanging on the chandelier. It’s a perfect time for Martin to ask, “So, Dillon, you know any good restaurants?”

Shawn Levy is primarily a TV director, but he is responsible (if you can call it responsible) for directing Big Fat Liar — another faceless and tasteless kid-geared film with an addiction to messy catastrophes. There’s talk and action of him and Martin resuscitating the Pink Panther movie groove. Although Martin started out a refreshing arrow-through-the-head, wild-and-crazy forerunner in plaid comedy, his later efforts like Bowfinger still make me cower and reach for a copy of The Producers for comfort. Whatever Martin used to be tapped into is suffocating inside reduced-humor films with tried and tried and tried and tired clichés. Also suffocating their charm and comic sway are Bonnie Hunt as mom Baker and Ashton Kutcher as Hank the hapless, dumb-as-a-doorknob boyfriend the kids love to torment. After watching them soak his underwear in a meat bucket, I soon found myself trying to count up all the dog-in-the-crotch scenes I’ve seen in my life.

With a good half hour of generic goo to go, I listened to the baby snoring next to me and drifted into an amniotic lull. At least this 12-headed pacifier was able to clear my head of worldly troubles as Martin smashed apples with a tennis racket, covering his movie children with whacked-out apple mush.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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