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Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

The only thing more outdated than Cheaper by the Dozen’s soundtrack is its hokey life lessons.

Cheaper by the Dozen
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The only thing more outdated than Cheaper by the Dozen’s soundtrack—which features 1992 pop hits “Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane and “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs—is its hokey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.

Cast: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Tom Welling, Piper Perabo, Hilary Duff, Ashton Kutcher, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Merris Carden, John Dixon Director: Shawn Levy Screenwriter: Craig Titley Distributor: 20th Century Fox Running Time: 98 min Rating: PG Year: 2003 Buy: Video

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