Review - Cheaper by the Dozen 2
My wife and daughter insisted on going to see Cheaper by the Dozen 2, so I consented. I expected to see a watered-down attempt at milking a franchise from a very successful first movie. I expected to be bored and not laugh at all. I was surprised. What I saw was a very funny, fast-paced and enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable movie that is one of the better sequels I’ve seen in years.
In Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Tom Baker (Steve Martin) takes his family back to the old vacation spot only to find it a bit worse for wear (all right, it’s downright decrepit) in the face of outrageous competition from the new upscale resort built by his archrival and childhood nemesis, Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy). However, Tom is determined to make this vacation as memorable as all the rest in year’s past.
The meeting between Baker and Murtaugh after more than four years triggers the old rivalry and Tom begins to feel like he is losing his children to the lure of all the neat stuff that Murtaugh is able to supply to his own brood of eight children. Against everyone’s wishes, Tom accepts Jimmy’s challenge to compete in the Labor Day challenge.
We begin with the graduation ceremony for Lorraine Baker, played by a far-too-thin Hillary Duff who looks more like her far-too-thin older sister Haylie than the cute, young Lizzy McGuire everyone fell in love with so many years ago, and Kate’s voiceover about letting one of the brood fly from the nest. From there we are off on a Baker adventure which includes trucking a very pregnant Nora (Piper Perabo) and her husband, Bud (Jonathan Bennett) with the cell phone surgically attached to his ear, off to the heart of cheese country, cramming Lorraine’s bed into her pup tent, a fireworks display at Murtaugh’s club, a re-hash of the dog and meat incident from the first movie, romantic hookups between Jessica Baker (Liliana Mumy) and Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner) and Charlie Baker (Tom Welling) and Anne Murtaugh (Jaime “James” King), and a fierce summer camp competition that ends in a frenzied race to the hospital to deliver the newest Baker family addition.
Despite the re-hash of the dog and meat incident, which is instigated by Tom and backfires on him incidentally, this movie is refreshingly free of the usual regurgitation of tired old jokes that many sequels glean from their originals. In fact, this is a very strong story about two families trying to come to terms with their patriarchs’ control needs. Murtaugh is an uber-control freak who pushes his children to excel beyond their means and despite thinking he has them under control is slowly losing that control over them. Baker, on the other hand, is a firm, loving but somewhat laissez faire father who feels he is losing his family, but in reality has very strong ties to them all.
Mixed in with the usual slapstick comedy of a Steve Martin vehicle are some great sight gags and one-liners delivered expertly by Second City alum Bonnie Hunt. After being doused with a pitcher of orange juice, Kate (Hunt) quips, “It’s just like Spring Break. I hope I win the contest” and upon seeing an exhausted Tom (Martin) sprawled out on the bed in full water skiing gear she turns to leave the room saying, “Ooh, let me put on a little perfume.” Lines that are professional enough to have been scripted, yet spontaneous enough to have been improvised on the spot. And Ms. Hunt still looks fabulous in a low cut “Hot Mama” shirt made for the likes of Carmen Electra.
Carmen Electra’s Sarina Murtaugh, Jimmy’s trophy wife, is the voice of reason in this movie. She admits to Kate that she has no idea how to manage such a big family and laments to her that Jimmy is pushing the children beyond their limits. Despite early impressions in the movie that she is nothing more than the bubble headed ex-actress who married the downright ugly Murtaugh for his money, she reveals herself to be a caring woman who only has the best interests of the whole family in mind, telling him that he had better change his ways if he doesn’t “want to start looking for wife number four.”
As soon as Tom accepts Jimmy’s challenge, unfortunately, the movie becomes predictable. We instantly know that Tom is going to go overboard in training for the event. We know that the Baker children are going to rebel and appear to let him down. We know as soon as Charlie and Anne meet in the forest that she is eventually going to drop a bombshell on her father. We know that despite their initial rejection, the Bakers are going to come through for Tom. We know that as soon as Nora’s water breaks in the canoe, Tom is going to abandon all competition for the sake of his family. Predictable, but reassuring. This is the way family life is supposed to be. How nice.
I was pleased to see a fairly fresh approach taken to the continuation of the Baker family saga that did not rely on reusing gags from the first movie, but was disappointed that there were so many predictable events along the way that were not cleverly enough revealed throughout. I was very pleased to see the story revolve around different children in the family than those focused on in the first movie. This one gives Liliana Mumy room to show what she can do. Maybe we can get the whole Mumy family together for another Lost In Space adventure.
I had fun and enjoyed myself on a lazy holiday afternoon following the New Year and recommend this as a great matinee movie. It is a genuine holiday confection.
***1/2 out of *****