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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Fox // PG // April 6, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


While it's disappointing that Steve Martin has once again taken on material that seems like something he's settled for then something that challenges his comedic skills, "Cheaper by the Dozen" remains a pleasant enough flick to pass 90 minutes. A remake of the 1950 Clifton Webb film, this picture stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as Tom and Kate Baker, the parents of a dozen children, who they love and who turn their life into organized chaos.

Tom is the head coach of a small college football team who learns that he's gotten the gig of his dreams: head coach at a major college in a Chicago suburb (read: Northwestern). Kate, meanwhile, has landed a publishing deal in regards to her book on how two normal human beings can somehow raise a dozen loud, self-centered rugrats.

Kate's subplot sends her off, while Tom must look after the dozen children, who are now further upset by having been uprooted from their old neighborhood. Of course, the kids are made up of all different types, from the fashion-obsessed brat (Hilary Duff, who still has not suggested she won't be replaying "Lizzie McGuire"-ish roles for years to come), the one who left (Piper Perabo) and the one who everyone thinks is adopted, who they call "Fedex".

What follows is the usual array of physical comedy and expected subplots (the football staff question the skills of the small town coach, the oldest daughter comes back with her new boyfrend (Ashton Kutcher, uncredited), the kids miss their old neighborhood (despite moving from a house that was barely able to fit them all to what appears to be a mansion that would cost somewhere between $1.5-2m.)

The performances are the best part of an otherwise rather predictable film. Martin isn't exactly doing classic work, but he's skilled at physical comedy and adds a little edge under the sugary-sweet material. Bonnie Hunt, terrific on her underappreciated ABC sitcom, brings her classic timing and slight hint of cynicism that's missed when her character is off-screen. The pairing of Hunt and Martin is a pretty brilliant one, and it's something that works as well as one might think it would. Tom Welling ("Smallville") provides a fine performance, as Welling (playing the oldest son) and Martin present a fairly convincing troubled father/son relationship - one of the film's few touches of conflict amidst the comedy.

Piper Perabo, who I've liked in "Coyote Ugly", "Lost and Delirious" and the still unreleased "Slap Her, She's French", is good playing straight against Kutcher's slapstick. Speaking of Kutcher, he steals several scenes parodying himself (including one line that seemed like a nod to one of the best episodes of "That 70's Show".) Paula Marshall and Alan Ruck are also good in brief roles as the neighbors, while Wayne Knight ("Seinfeld"'s Newman) gets laughs in a small, uncredited role as a repairman.

Directed by Shawn Levy ("Just Married"), "Cheaper by the Dozen" doesn't strain to change the rules of the genre - audiences who are familiar with this sort of family fare will probably see the pieces clicking into place before they do. Christophe Beck's drippy, sappy score full of orchestral swells won't help, either. Still, the film gets by through the strength of its actors and the whole project's convincing sweetness (as manipulative as Beck's score is, there is a heart to the movie) and speedy pace. The whole thing falls in the middle: not bad, not great and I didn't feel like I wanted my 90 minutes back. Oh, and it is also a good deal better than "Daddy Day Care".


The DVD

VIDEO: "Cheaper by the Dozen" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan. Each edition of the film has its own side of a dual-sided, single-layered DVD. The anamorphic widescreen presentation offers satisfactory image quality, as some concerns take it down a few notches. Sharpness and definition seemed to vary a bit, as the film often appeared a little on the soft side, with some scenes looking a bit more noticably so than others.

Although the softness caused some concern, there really wasn't anything else amatter with the presentation. Edge enhancement was not noticed and compression artifacts were generally kept to a minimum. The print appeared to be in fine condition, with only a couple of little specks and no major debris. The film's bright color palette generally appeared well-rendered, aside from a couple of moments where colors looked ever-so-slightly smeary.

SOUND: "Cheaper by the Dozen" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is clearly a "comedy mix", with nearly nothing in the way of surround use. Even the film's score and occasional songs ("These Are Days" and "Life is a Highway", among others) are clearly anchored in the front speakers, with little in the way of reinforcement by the rear speakers. Audio quality is fine, if not noteworthy: where there's nothing terribly dynamic about the audio, music remained clean, while dialogue remained clear, even in scenes where several actors are trying to talk over each other.

EXTRAS: Director Shawn Levy talks up a storm on his commentary track. While Levy does heap praise on pretty much everyone involved with the picture, I did find a lot of the information offered on this track to be informative, as the director went into great detail about working with all of the different actors/acting styles (pointing out improvs) and creating the look of the film. While I had problems with some aspects of the film, I really felt that Levy went through nearly every scene of the film quite well, describing his viewpoint of the scene and what he was trying to accomplish. Although he does praise cast and crew heavily, I liked that he often integrated some background information about that person or shared more about their role in the scene.

Also included is a kid's commentary, featuring: Alyson Stoner (Sarah Baker), Jacob Smith (Jake Baker), Kevin Schmidt (Henry Baker), Morgan York (Kim Baker), Liliana Mummy (Jessica Baker) and, for a few scenes, Piper Perabo (Nora Baker).

Aside from the commentaries, there are a few featurettes. "Director's Viewfinder: Creating a Fictional Family" is a 4-minute look at casting the kids. There's also a few deleted scenes with commentary from director Shawn Leavy and a preview for Fox's upcoming live-action "Garfield" movie.

Final Thoughts: "Cheaper by the Dozen" doesn't exactly make the most out of the film's cast and material, but it's a sweet movie with some funny moments and good performances. Fans of the huge hit ($135m) will be pleased with the DVD, as it offers fine audio/video quality and a few enjoyable supplements. Recommended.

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