The only thing more outdated than Cheaper by the Dozen‘s soundtrack—which features 1992 pop hits “Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane and “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs—is its hokey life lessons concerning the importance of family over career. Borrowing the title and premise (but little else) from a 1950 bore starring Clifton Webb (which itself was based on the melodramas of a real-life family), this kid-friendly Steve Martin comedy details the trials and tribulations of Thomas (Martin) and Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) and their 12 kids. When Thomas decides to move the family from Podunk, Illinois, to a trendy Chicago burb so he can nab his dream job (head coach of a Division I college football team) and Kate lands a book deal and subsequent two-week publicity tour, all hell breaks loose courtesy of their selfish, bratty kids, who can’t stand the thought of Mom and Dad living their own lives for one single second. The film’s ‘50s ideals decry careers as dangerous nuisances that interfere with one’s ability to properly manage a household, thereby completely disregarding—save for a phony epilogue—the fact that family and professional lives are (duh!) frequently compatible. Of course, since the Bakers eagerly chose to inundate themselves with 12 children, one can also see the film’s conclusion as a refreshing rebuke to these narcissistic parents and their naïve dream of having a life outside the messy family they created. There are various one-dimensional subplots—the nerdy child who doesn’t fit in; the hunky football star (Smallville‘s Tom Welling) who wants to return to the old neighborhood and live with his girlfriend; the eldest daughter (Piper Perabo) who craves a life away from the family; and the fashion-obsessed daughter (Hilary Duff) who does nothing more than look perky and stylish—but all are wrapped up with superficial, perfunctory neatness. Ashton Kutcher appears briefly as Perabo’s self-absorbed struggling actor boyfriend Hank, and the marriage between actor and character meld perfectly when Hank admits, “I’m not that good of an actor. This [motioning to his face] is my money maker.” In this otherwise insincere, slapdash cheap excuse for Martin to revisit his Parenthood turf with a bunch of troublesome tykes and TV stars-on-hiatus, Hank’s buffoonish sincerity is a welcome glint of reality.
Here's another film that has absolutely no business looking as good as it does on DVD. There is the occasional artifact and blacks aren't exactly stellar, but colors are eye-popping and detail is exceptional. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a little front-heavy but its every bit the equal of the video transfer. Dialogue is super sharp but the soundtrack truly proves its worth when each one of the endless pop songs kick in.
It took me exactly 31 seconds to stop listening to Shawn Levy's commentary track. That's how long it took the director to tell us that he got this gig based on a FOX suit being very impressed by his previous film, Just Married. Equally time sensitive is the second commentary track with four of the 12 Baker Kids. No Hilary? No Piper? No Superman? Who cares! For the first thirty seconds or so of "Director's Viewfinder: Creating a Fictional Family," Levy relates the same story he did on the start of his commentary track. Is he seriously trying to piss me off? Before turning the disc over to the other side, where you will find a full screen version of the film and a series of adult-friendly deleted scenes, check out the preview for the bound-to-be-repulsive Garfield.
Cheaper by the Dozen? How about dime a dozen? I give Shawn Levy 10 more films before he makes a good one.