Cheaper by the Dozen (December 23/03)
It's an awfully sad day when Ashton Kutcher is the best thing about a movie.
Cheaper by the Dozen, an update of the 1950s family film, suffers from just that predicament. That's not to say that leading man Steve Martin isn't good - he's as wacky and occasionally funny as he's been in recent years - but given how effective he used to be in films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Parenthood, that he's essentially become another Eddie Murphy is certainly a disappointment.
As the ads have already indicated, Cheaper by the Dozen follows the exploits of a middle-class family of 14 (two parents and 12 kids). Martin stars as successful high school football coach Tom Baker, while Bonnie Hunt plays his novelist wife Kate. Though all their kids are happy enough living in a small town, when Tom receives an offer at a large University, he can't turn it down. Much wackiness ensues as the entire clan uproots and heads to the big city.
While Cheaper by the Dozen is essentially entertaining in a mindless sort of way, it probably would've worked a whole lot better had the sentimental moments been left to a minimum. With family films of this sort, such instances of maudlin preaching are to be expected - but Cheaper by the Dozen is jam-packed with so-called tender sequences, virtually to the point where it makes Full House look edgy by comparison.
Yet the movie does have a certain charm about it, mostly thanks to the work of Martin and Hunt. As the film progresses, they're able to take these relatively one-dimensional characters and turn them into a genuinely intriguing couple (that both actors come from a stand-up background probably helps). Tom Welling, best known for playing Clark Kent on Smallville, proves that he's an incredibly able and charismatic actor - though he never really gets all that much to do here. And as for Kutcher, who's playing a conceited actor named Hank, he's responsible for some of Cheaper by the Dozen's few laughs. And while it's fairly obvious he'll never have a big career in dramatic roles, his comedic timing is undeniable.
Director Shawn Levy imbues the film with all the style of a made-for-TBS production, which makes the many saccharine-laced moments far more overwhelming than they should've been. Still, you could certain do worse than Cheaper by the Dozen this holiday season (Peter Pan, anyone?), but you could also do a lot better (Elf is still hanging around, folks).