At a party celebrating their daughter's (Hilary Duff) high school graduation, Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate Baker (Bonnie Hunt) learn their gigantic family (including Tom Welling, Piper Perabo, and Alyson Stoner) might be growing apart. Eager to rekindle the family feeling that's recently eluded them, the Bakers decide to spend their Labor Day holiday at a vacation house by their beloved Lake Winnetka. Once arrived, Tom struggles to keep the kids interested in family time and the outdoors, only to find his old rival Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), his trophy wife Sarina (Carmen Electra), and their brood of eight kids are living across the lake. Looking for a little friendly competition, both in camping and parenting skills, the clans close out the summer with a bang of gamesmanship.
Get this: "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" isn't all that bad. Not a crowning achievement of family film cinema, but not a rash-inducing nightmare either. A sequel to the 2003 original (itself a remake), "Dozen 2" gets a needed makeover behind the camera, and the change magically brightens up this bizarre franchise.
The new director is Adam Shankman, who worked with Martin and Levy in their smash hit, "Bringing Down the House," but also brought the world the unpleasant Vin Diesel smash, "The Pacifier." Shankman is a studio company man, gladly making mainstream cinema for the masses, and this sequel doesn't break the mold. What Shankman does show in "Dozen 2" is restraint. A huge amount of mind-blowing restraint. Given a chance to make a sequel to one of the most excruciating and notorious family films of the last decade, and Shankman has the gall to pull back on the throttle? This movie completely blindsided me.
The initial "Dozen" was a movie based primarily around mean-spirited pranks the kids pulled on those they didn't like, or just those that got in the way. Director Shawn Levy pitched his monstrosity of a movie at a strident tone that would be considered torture in some countries. He encouraged his cast to act as obnoxious as they possibly could, while also praising the Baker clan for their obscene and irresponsible breeding practices. The original film was appalling.
After a five minute opener that explains why Hilary Duff, Tom Welling, and Piper Perabo won't be in the film for very long, "Dozen 2" starts to tackle some interesting, alien emotions to the franchise, most notably: the empty nest syndrome that's finally come for Tom and Kate. There's a bittersweet shade to this production, as Tom tries to keep his beloved family together, yet sadly observes them growing up and heading in separate directions, be it through marriage, college, or just the pre-teen lure of boys. Of course, Shankman beats all honest heartache into the ground with an overactive score and abuse of close-ups, but the mere appearance of a genuine feeling in a film as plastic as this is cause enough to crack open the champagne and commence the jitterbug.
Also missing from the mix is the film's reliance on bottom-feeding humor. Oh sure, there's a callback to the "meat underwear" sequence from the original film, and Shankman makes sure Martin's testicles get slapped around as if they insulted his momma, but the comic violence and general prank atmosphere is dialed way down this time around; it's replaced with screenwriting that explores the growing pains (and dating woes) of the kids, and the summertime camp location, which is ripe for set-pieces. Again, Shankman doesn't challenge the material, but the little efforts, including a fart reference here instead of a joke, make all the difference in the world.
Shankman is also far more comfortable giving screentime to national treasure Bonnie Hunt, who gets the film's biggest laugh when Kate is forced to wear one of Sarina's slutty shirts for dinner. Hunt could do the Mommy role in her sleep, but she gives her scenes a slight spice and shares warm chemistry with Steve Martin. Frankly, they could lose the kids entirely, as a film following these two actors would be much more appealing.
And for you "Twilight" nuts out there, who shows up here as potential suitor for one of the Baker kids? A young, pre-fame Taylor Lautner!
Looks like there's been some mild DNR applied to the AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) on the "Dozen 2" Blu-ray. Some of the more important facial detail has been reduced (Martin's head looks like a pink blob with eyes in wide shots), but it ranges from scene to scene. Colors are pleasingly robust and help along the family film ambiance, along with giving forest locations an inviting green pop. Shadow detail is unsteady at times, but never oppressive.
The DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix here is uneven, working back and forth between peaceful dramatics and the slapstick, which can be a jolting transition at times. The dialogue frontal assault from the myriad of cast members remains in a crisp, expressive state, blended into soundtrack selections and scoring comfortably. The track gets aggressive during the larger comedic set-pieces, necessitating some volume monitoring. Outdoorsy atmospherics are nicely laid into surrounds. French and Spanish tracks are also available.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Adam Shankman is both enlightening and tiresome, making for an erratic listening experience. The filmmaker is conversational, but tends to ramble, even while he has plenty of footage worthy of discussion. Shankman's best moments arrive with cast discussions and the challenge of corralling such a large amount of fidgety actors. Interestingly, the director talks of deleted scenes that are not on this Blu-ray, which leads to some confusion.
"Casting Session" (8:03) is a cable special highlighting the various faces of the movie and how they wound up in the project.
"Camp Chaos" (10:17) plunges further into Shankman's woe, showing off a set that often consisted of 60 actors (including stand-ins), with everyone competing for attention. The interviews with cast and crew are kind enough to avoid hurt feelings, but the BTS footage reveals a more harried group of professionals.
"A Comedic Trio" (5:27) spotlights the comedy skills of Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, and Eugene Levy.
Two Theatrical Trailers are included.
It's a strange feeling to come away from a movie aimed at kids, much less a sequel to something as loathsome as "Cheaper by the Dozen," and not feel as though I need a shower and a vasectomy.
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