Every once in a while, you just need a movie to sit down with and enjoy. You don't need deep philosophical drama, well thought out characters, or hidden meanings. Just a very simple, surface level harmless comedy is something everyone needs and these movies are getting quite rare. "Cheaper by the Dozen" is a completely different movie than the original from 1950, but it's still a wild little predictable comedy that fits the mold described above.
Tom Baker (Steve Martin) and his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) have a rather unique household, containing eleven kids. Yes, all their own. Their oldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) has moved out, though she still plays a role. Tom gets a chance at his dream job, coaching his college alumni's football team. That unfortunately requires a move from the solid foundation they have built. Right after the move, Kate is needed in New York to promote her new book, leaving Tom to try and handle eleven kids by himself in a totally new environment.
There's no doubt that trying to maintain this many kids would be difficult. Most people would be contemplating suicide after the fifth. The kids in this script, while doing their part to keep the peace, are flat out evil at times. Some of the pranks they pull could likely get someone killed, not to mention themselves, and all the parents seem to do is ground them or take away their allowance. Yes, it's all for maximum comedy, but you really have to consider that no one in their right mind is going to let one kid, let alone a herd of them, act like this.
That doesn't mean you're not going laugh. There's plenty of comedy here, aided by a great cast on the surface, leading down the unknowns playing the kids. Running at 90-minutes, there's little time devoted to most of them. Director Shawn Levy focuses on a few of them; basically to make sure the inevitable drama to come later has the most impact.
It's a smart move to keep the running time down and while you'll have fun early on, it falls into the rut you can see coming from the opening moments. The last 20 or so minutes go straight for the heart in predictable fashion without a single laugh to be found. If this was meant to be a dram, that would be fine, but it's not. You're paying money to see what was advertised as a comedy and that's what you should get.
Yes, that's being overly harsh on what really is an enjoyable movie. It gets off to a great start and everything is aided by a familiar yet well chosen soundtrack used at exactly the right moments. It's a member of that now rare breed of movie that both the kids and parents (that PG rating is pretty bad; there's nothing to worry about) can enjoy together. (*** out of *****)
This is a really sharp transfer from Fox, a dual sided disc that contains both a 1.85:1 widescreen and pan & scan version on opposite sides. Flesh tones seem oddly off at times, occasionally way too orange to be acceptable. A few brief shots seem really dirty, especially for a movie this new. Otherwise, compression is well under control, aliasing never becomes an issue, and the colors are strong. (****)
There's not much to hear, unsurprisingly. The few brief scenes that showcase Tom coaching his team make excellent use of the surrounds for that stadium atmosphere. The soundtrack provides a little bit of boom for the LFE channel to handle. Other than that, there's not much else to speak of. Dialogue is clear, maybe a little low once in a while. It's a case of a disc providing what it needs to and not much else. (***)
Extras are split between the two sides, so yes, the pan & scan side will have to enter into the player. The widescreen side contains a brief four and half minute feature called "Director's Viewfinder: Creating a Fictional Family." Basically, it boils down to the director talking about how he chose to shoot/cast the film. There's not much of any real value here. The only other extra on this side is a trailer for "Garfield: The Movie."
Both sides contain the same commentary tracks. The first features the director going solo while the second has five of the kids talking about their experiences. Perabo also makes some brief comments on specific scenes. Five deleted scenes make flipping the disc over worthwhile, including commentary as to why they were cut. The babysitter sequence was the wisest cut and the longest. (***)
Though none of the film is actually true (well, it could be in theory), it is based on a real family, the Gilbreth's. The name is used a few times in the film if you can catch it. They split their family right down the middle with 6 boys and 6 girls.