When Adam Shankman went to Bad Filmmaker school to learn how to make bad movies, he picked up some important skills. He learned that when it comes to comedy, there’s nothing more sure-fire than people doing a lot of bumbling, falling, exaggerating, over-acting, stammering, stumbling and tripping. He also learned that if your movie does not include, at some point, a misbehaving dog — preferably biting a man’s crotch, though humping someone’s leg is allowable — then your movie cannot truly be considered “funny.”
Shankman has used his Bad Filmmaker skills in directing such bad films as “The Wedding Planner,” “Bringing Down the House” and “The Pacifier,” but his new “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” is worse than most of them. It’s bad enough to be his master’s thesis, should he ever choose to return to Bad Filmmaker University and continue his studies.
And I liked the first movie! “Cheaper by the Dozen,” I thought, was a warm, rather funny family comedy. It had a different director, though, and three writers, two of whom — the good ones, apparently — did not return for the sequel.
It’s still the Baker family, of course, with Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) still the proud parents of 12 children, ranging in age from just-married Nora (Piper Perabo) to a pair of 4-year-old twin boys. As Part Deux begins, Lorraine (a skeletal Hilary Duff) is graduating from high school. Her parents throw her a huge backyard party that is attended only by adults, no fellow graduates, and where there is an open bar. So already you know we’re dealing with a film grounded in reality.
With Lorraine headed to New York in the fall, and Nora and her uptight husband Bud (Jonathan Bennett) about to move away, Tom and Kate decide to take the entire brood to Lake Winnetka for one last summer vacation. Though it was once a regular destination, it’s been a few years since the Bakers were there. Tom just hopes they don’t run into Jimmy Murtaugh, his lifelong rival and also a father of many children. That guy is so competitive! Every time he and Tom meet, the families wind up in hotly contested lakeside sports and games. So let’s just hope the Murtaughs don’t happen to be there the same week as the Bakers!
Oh, but heavens to Betsy, the Murtaughs ARE there!! Jimmy, an over-tanned business tycoon played by Eugene Levy, has bought the palatial home on the opposite side of the lake from the dilapidated cabin the Bakers have borrowed. (Maybe if they hadn’t dropped so much money on that enormous booze-fueled graduation party they’d have been able to afford better vacation accommodations. I’m just sayin’.) Jimmy has a new trophy wife named Sarina (Carmen Electra) and is only too proud to boast of his eight perfect children’s academic and sporting achievements. The best Tom can do is hope none of his kids set anything on fire while anyone is watching.
It is much to Tom’s chagrin, then, that his kids actually LIKE the over-achieving Murtaugh children. They like their toys, too, of course; the Murtaughs have jet skis and trampolines and plasma TVs and stuff. Here Tom wanted to spend a week with his kids, and the kids just want to play with the Murtaughs.
Well, suck it up, Tom. Here I wanted to watch one of the great comic geniuses of the last 50 years make me laugh, and I got stuck watching Steve Martin in a wetsuit being dragged behind a boat. Life’s full of disappointments, isn’t it?
It was hard enough to keep track of 12 kids, and now there are 20. There are three or four who I honestly believe don’t have any lines in the whole film, and a few more who only say a few words. The only kid we get something close to a “character arc” with is the tomboyish Baker girl Sarah (Alyson Stoner), who is about 12 and develops a crush on her male counterpart in the Murtaugh clan. She’s got a “daddy’s little girl” thing going on, and Tom has to come to terms with the idea of her growing up. It would be sweet, if it were in a movie that knew how to do “sweet” without a blaring string section on the soundtrack and an endless, endless series of hugs and tearful declarations. (The loud, sappy music is something Shankman learned at Bad Filmmaker school, too.)
Jimmy Murtaugh is an insufferable jerk. He’s insulting, rude and condescending. I think he’s supposed to be those things in a “funny” way, but boy, that canoe sure left the dock without a paddle.
For what it’s worth, Martin and Hunt are charming together as the Baker parents, and they deserve a better movie to be in. Hunt, in particular, seems to be having her own kind of fun in her own little world, while Martin is unfortunately required to commit whole-heartedly to the buffoonery at hand. Such great talents, Martin and Hunt. Such a waste of them in this, a movie where the emotional climax comes when the kids discover a huge trove of artifacts that a rat has dragged into its nest over the years. Items found in a rat’s nest: priceless.
D (1 hr., 34 min.; )