Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) always wanted a large family, but they weren’t quite prepared when they eventually had twelve children. Working together as a tag team, they manage to keep the business of raising a family under relative control. However, when Tom gets offered his dream job of head football coach for his college alma mater, the children are less than thrilled about leaving their small town Illinois home for the suburbs of Chicago. Upon arriving in their new home, the children find themselves having trouble making new friends in their neighborhood and adapting to their new schools.
Things are complicated when Kate, who gave up her budding journalism career to be a full time mother, gets a chance to have her first book published. Unfortunately, it also means that you she’ll need to be away from home for a few weeks on a promotional tour leaving Tom in charge of running the household just as his new job is demanding more of his time.
The 2003 version of Cheaper By The Dozen only bears a passing resemblance to the original 1950 version which starred Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, though there is a nod to the original book on which the Webb-Loy version is based with Bonnie Hunt’s character’s maiden name. Instead we get a script that feels like the Cliff Notes version of these characters’ lives. (Growing up in a family of five boys, I can say that the script does a good job replicating the controlled chaos that can reign in a large family, touching on the small details like a parent’s name confusion when trying to do more than three things at once.) With a major cast of 14 characters and only an hour and 40 minutes to tell their stories, things are bound to lack a lot of depth and detail.
Director Shawn Levy manages his large cast well, painting the characters of all 12 Baker children in at least broad strokes to differentiate them, although a few of them take a backseat to some of the other children’s plot lines. Levy also eschews the broader style of the Austin Powers films that he has helmed for a more controlled production. A story like this could drift into sitcom territory fairly easily, but Levy keeps that from happening. Instead he keeps the film moving along at an enjoyable pace so that we’re forgiving of the script’s flaws.
Steve Martin delivers a likeable but unremarkable performance, but that’s good. Anything more would boarder on cartoony and be completely wrong for the tone of this film. Bonnie Hunt, meanwhile, remains perhaps the funniest under-appreciated actress in Hollywood. While Cheaper By The Dozen doesn’t utilize her comedic talents to the fullest, it should hopefully help to land her a role that plays more to her strengths. Ashton Kutcher delivers a hysterical (and unbilled) performance as eldest daughter Nora’s (Piper Perabo) vain actor boyfriend whom no one likes, showing that given the right material (and not dreck like Just Married or My Boss’s Daughter) he can be funny.