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edge staff writer


You get what you pay for with ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’

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At what point does the degradation of a copy of a copy of a copy become a bridge too far with regard to filmmaking? In this era of reboots and remakes, how many iterations are too many?

Take “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the new original – sorry, “original” – film streaming on Disney+. This film is a remake of the 2003 Steve Martin vehicle which was itself an adaptation of the 1950 original, based on the real life of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

It’s dozens all the way down.

The central focus of these films – massive blended families – remains the same even as the details surrounding those large families change. However, there’s undeniably a significant degree of diminishing returns, and while this latest iteration does expand its vocabulary somewhat – largely through efforts at wider inclusivity – it doesn’t really seem to have much to say.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” isn’t bad. Not really. But nor is it particularly good. It is a perfectly cromulent family film, one that will likely prove acceptable for everyone in the family while not actively appealing to any of them. Slight, saccharine and ultimately forgettable, it will pass the time, but don’t expect much more than that.

Paul (Zach Braff) and Zoey (Gabrielle Union) Baker head up a large blended family. Both Paul and Zoey have multiple children from their first marriages – Paul to the big-hearted but scattered New Age-y Kate (Erika Christensen), Zoey to NFL star Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett) – as well as producing two sets of twins in their own marriage. Guess we should do a roll call?

Zoey’s kids with Dom are aspiring basketball star Deja (Journee Brown) and comics nerd DJ (Andre Robinson). Paul’s kids with Kate are budding influencer Ella (Kylie Rogers) and punk rocker Harley (Caylee Blosenski), plus Haresh (Aryan Simhadri), their godchild whom they adopted after his parents died in a car accident. And then, the twins – Luca (Leo Abelo Perry) and Luna (Mykal-Michelle Harris); Bailey (Christian Cote) and Bronx (Sebastian Cote).

Yeah – it’s a lot of kids.

The Bakers own and operate a restaurant called Baker’s Breakfast, a breakfast-only joint in the outskirts of Los Angeles. Any kids that are old enough work at the restaurant when they’re not in school. They all live together in a too-small house that has them basically existing on top of one another, though there’s a rhythm to it all that seems to work.

But when Paul’s incredible breakfast sauce – it can be sweet, savory or spicy, depending on what you put it on – catches the eye of a pair of investors (Brittany and Cynthia Daniel), things start to shift. Suddenly, the family has the money they need to move to a bigger house, one in a fairly tony neighborhood in Calabasas, with the kids getting their own rooms and heading off to private school.

But as Paul’s business success starts to grow, the family begins to drift apart. Zoey and the kids struggle to find happiness in their new surroundings, with many of them forced to confront prejudices that they hadn’t experienced nearly as blatantly in their previous environs. Conflicts arise and the once-united front begins to crumble, leaving the Baker family far from the cheerily functional unit it used to be. In the end, Paul and Zoey – and the rest of their unconventional family – must determine the best course of action for them and their ultimate happiness.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” is fine. In some ways, it feels like a bit of a throwback to the family-friendly live-action Disney offerings of yesteryear, with the same low-stakes vibes and general amiability that we often got from those films. And as I mentioned, there’s a tendency toward inclusion that is nice to see (even if it does feel rather forced in spots); it’s reflective of the heavy involvement of Kenya Barris, who both co-wrote the screenplay and served as the producer of the film. The result is a movie that very much wears its beliefs on its sleeve; while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in this case, we wind up with a movie content to wade rather than dive into those waters.

However, the truth is that there just isn’t much here. There’s a lightweight quality to the film, an inoffensive wispiness that results in little actual impact on the viewer – you won’t have a bad time watching “Cheaper by the Dozen,” but it doesn’t really matter, because you won’t really remember much about it after the fact. Add to that a lack of consistency – we move from family hijinks to slapstick goofiness to racial commentary without much in the way of rhyme or reason – and the movie just doesn’t click.

The ensemble does its job, though no one really stands out. Braff’s aw-shucks goofball vibe translates rather nicely to this sort of dad role; don’t be surprised if we see him do more of this kind of thing going forward. Union is perhaps a slightly tougher fit, if only because we’re left guessing at some of her character’s arc. Still, she remains an engaging screen presence. The absolute onslaught of children gets it done – none of them give great performances, but there are no outright duds either. Considering the sheer volume of youngsters, that’s a big W. Christensen and Durrett are fine, but both are largely afterthoughts, their roles existing to move the plot rather than as characters in their own right.

I’m not sure that we needed another take on “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Honestly, better to set Barris loose on some original work rather than another retread. It’s charming enough and it seems to want to say something, but any message it might have hoped to spread is lost in the noise that comes with being beholden to a swarm of children. It’s a movie that families can certainly watch together, though one imagines its formulaic nature will render it largely forgettable.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2022 11:21


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