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Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Cheaper 2": hard-working procreators, lazy script

Special to The Seattle Times

"Belles on Their Toes," the 1952 sequel to the original "Cheaper by the Dozen," is built on a simple and honest premise. The Gilbreth family's father (Clifton Webb) from "Cheaper" has died of a heart attack and his widow (Myrna Loy) and 12 kids have to pinch pennies to survive.

Steve Martin, who played the patriarch in the 2003 version of "Cheaper by the Dozen," isn't about to drop out of its own follow-up. So dad isn't going anywhere. But then neither of the shallow Martin films — the new one is called "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" — bears much resemblance to the earlier movies (or the beloved books they're based on).

In fact, in several important ways, "Cheaper 2" is the opposite of "Belles." Instead of a family pulling together, "Cheaper 2" is a portrait of a clan fragmented by restless, individual pursuits and consumer temptations. Instead of a family engaged in renewing itself, the more vocal children of Martin's character, Tom Baker, are busy blaming him for being an obstacle to their independence.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2 stars

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2," with Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy. Directed by Adam Shankman, from a screenplay by Sam Harper. 100 minutes. Rated PG for crude humor and mild language. Several theaters.

Tom and fecund wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt), facing what might be the last time they can arm-twist their entire brood into a vacation, gather everyone at the Bakers' rustic, lakeside cabin. Griping ensues, and Tom's old rival, Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), a competitive materialist with his own large family, offers the Baker kids big-budget distractions Tom can't afford.

With three inspired comics — Martin, Levy and Hunt — as the adult leads, "Cheaper 2" is not an entirely wearing experience. But its predictability borders on the insulting, and there is one scene, an extended, homophobic joke, that comes close to being an outrage.

The script is plain lazy. Where "Belles" included comic bits starring Hoagy Carmichael, "Cheaper 2" offers a vagabond rat who runs off with Baker family possessions, creating a little museum of memories conveniently revealed when it's time for the Bakers to remember that sometimes they really have to be there for each other when the chips are down.

Of course, in a film with as little substance as "Cheaper 2," "chips are down" translates into nothing more than the odds being against the Bakers in a three-legged race against the Murtaughs. It doesn't get much more pathetic than that.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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