More noise than signal

Cheaper By The Dozen

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,


Oh, you want more details than that? Okay…

Something strange is afoot in America. Steve Martin’s movies are making money hand over fist, despite a notable absence of comedy value in our not terribly humble opinion. After the success of the risible Bringing Down The House and the slightly more bearable Daddy Day Care some Hollywood bright spark had the idea of combining the weakest elements of both in some ungodly fusion far more dangerous than any number of tinpot dictators.

Tom Baker (Steve Martin, sadly not the great Dr. Who) and Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) have given rise to a tribe of twelve kids of varying degrees of tolerability. Tom chases his dream job, coaching a top college American football team in Chicago dragging his family with him to the big smoke over their vocal protests. He promises they’ll all be happier in the city. He’s wrong. I promise you you’ll be happier not watching to find out why.

While Charlie (Tom ‘Smallville’ Welling) struggles to fit in at his new school and eldest Nora (Piper Perabo) worries that having escaped from the dominance of her family by moving in with model slash actor Hank (Ashton Kutcher) they’re going to drag her back into their orbit, the remaining ten don’t really have anything in particular to mump their gums about but don’t think for a second that’s going to stop them. The bulk of what would be lovely to imagine as the hilarity occurs when Kate heads off on a tour to promote her new book, leaving Tom to deal with a house full of belligerent hyperactive disillusioned kiddiewinks.

Cue the standard food fights, puking, running around screaming and wrecking things that we’ve seen umpteen times before. Mostly in Daddy Day Care, come to think of it, so I suppose this film was written largely for those with poor short-term memories. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with slapstick comedy, it’s just done so ineptly in Cheaper By The Dozen that more laughs were raised from us by some of the audience tripping on the stairs before taking their seats. Not a good sign, and seeing as most of the laughs are supposed to be coming from Steve Martin it’s not going to get better in a hurry.

If we discount 1999’s Bowfinger as a freak occurrence, rather like a shower of frogs or cows falling from the sky, the Steve Martin was last classified as funny around 1987/1988. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels passable entertainment, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles is undeniably decent. Since then he’s been stinking up cinemas in a variety of roles ill suited to him. He’s a very good straight man, one of the best in fact, a role that’s frequently under regarded. His straight dramatic acting, such as in the superlative The Spanish Prisoner is similarly good. When cast as the zany funny guy he’s approximately as funny as a smack in the face with a pointy stick.

Still, I suppose we’re in the minority with that view. Bringing Down The House did huge business, and Cheaper By The Dozen has taken 131 million dollars (and still counting) from a budget of 40 mill. Exactly where the money went for this film I don’t know, presumably straight to Martin’s pocket so I doubt he’ll be too worried that we don’t like him.

Still, it means that this film can be pretty much written off as he’s the only character that’s given a huge amount of screen time. The lines spoken by the younger Baker offspring show none of the wit that School Of Rock exhibited. The Eldest three Bakers, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling and Hilary Duff get about four lines each so I’m not going to hold them against them. At least Ashton Kutcher shows a commendable willingness to send himself up, although he hardly redefines comedy while doing so.

I suppose this film is very marginally more bearable than Sweet Home Alabama, so it escapes our rock bottom rating although it runs it close. Now you must excuse me, I have to go back to dreading the prospect of Steve Martin as Clouseau in 2005’s The Birth of the Pink Panther . The noise you’re hearing is Peter Sellers spinning in his grave.