|Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005)
Starring: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy, Carmen Electra, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff
Director: Adam Shankman
I admit it: I am so blinded by my unabashed disappointment with the direction that Steve Martin’s career has taken that there’s no way for me to be 100% sure that the reason I didn’t enjoy “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” is solely because it’s not that great a movie. I’m confident that, no matter who was in it, it wouldn’t have been very good; I’m just not sure if I find it worse because it’s another cinematic waste of time for a guy who’s so much funnier than the scripts he’s been signing off for the last fifteen years. (If you're prepared to defend any comedy he's done since "L.A. Story" with any phrase other than, “Oh, it wasn't that bad," I'm willing to listen.)
“Cheaper by the Dozen 2” picks up where the first film left off, with Tom Baker (Martin) and his wife, Kate (Bonnie Hunt), living with their twelve kids. The elder kids – played by Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, and Hilary Duff – are trying to spread their wings, but Dad begins to have the realization that his flock are trying to leave the nest, so he guilts them all into going back to the lakeside cabin where they spent so many previous summers. Of course, every one of those seasons has found the Bakers in direct competition with the Murtaugh family, led by patriarch Jimmy (Eugene Levy), who’s now on his third wife (Sarina, played by Carmen Electra). Despite Tom’s claims that he won’t be sucked back into battling Jimmy, he nonetheless does so, anyway, and the next thing you know, there’s a fight to the finish to see which family will be declared the best on the lake.
It’s hard to call “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” a letdown, given that it’s one of those films where your expectations going in are virtually nonexistent, but as with its predecessor, it’s a bummer that slapstick comedy remains the order of the day. There’s an easy chemistry between Martin and Hunt, and their scenes together are always fun (particularly when Hunt’s blouse is soiled and she has to wear one of Electra’s cleavage-displaying numbers), but there are twelve kids to focus on, so they don’t get much time together. Of the kids, it’s Alison Stoner as Sarah Baker who really gets the spotlight, and her role as the tomboy who’s coming to terms with having her first crush is very true to life. Electra doesn’t have much to do except apologize for her husband’s obsessive-compulsive nature, and Levy…well, all he has to do is appear onscreen to get a laugh, and he and Martin clearly work well together even when they’re in a crappy film (see “Bringing Down the House”), but he’s right up there with Martin when it comes to making viewers wonder, “Will this guy do any movie as long as he’s getting a check?”
It’s the scenes where Martin is actually playing a dad and not descending into slapstick shenanigans that remind you of his scenes in a similar role…but, no, I speak not the “Father of the Bride” films; instead, think back to when he played Gil Buckman in “Parenthood.” That film found Martin playing a loving father and husband who was funny without having to rely on ridiculous sight gags. The closing minutes of “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” are sweet and subdued rather than over the top. Too bad the same can’t be said of much of the preceding 75 minutes or so.
There’s audio commentary from director Adam Shankman, plus a few featurettes. Of the latter, the best is “A Comedic Trio,” the title of which speaks of Martin, Hunt, and Levy; the cast raves about working with them, and the behind-the-scenes clips of the comedians are arguably funnier than the film itself. I’m reminded of the famous Gene Siskel question, “Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?” The answer here is clearly no.