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There's no need to settle for the 'Cheaper' laughs

Sympathetic characters and deft acting give this comedy sequel about a large family appeal.

December 21, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" proves that less is more -- in comparison to the dismal "Yours, Mine & Ours" remake -- that the occasional comic calamity works better than nonstop chaos and allows for a family comedy that is actually involving, even believable, and manages to be pretty funny too.

Directed perceptively and energetically by Adam Shankman, this sequel to the 2003 hit is as shiny as a Christmas tree ornament yet gives full rein to Steve Martin's warm but sophisticated, richly nuanced talent and shows to advantage a large cast featuring Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy and Carmen Electra.

Sam Harper's clever script turns upon a universal tug, which is the reluctance of parents to let their kids go. Faced with the news that pregnant daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) and her husband (Jonathan Bennett) will be moving to Houston and that daughter Lorraine (Hilary Duff) is off to New York, Martin's Tom Baker decides the family should have one last vacation together, at their beloved Lake Winnetka, Wis.

The Bakers' 12 kids are reluctant, but Dad, with a nudge from Mom (Hunt), persuades them to agree to the plan. Clearly, the Bakers, based in the Chicago area, haven't vacationed there for some years, and the remorseless course of change that gives this comedy its shading hits home when they're faced with the ramshackle condition of the place they so enjoyed in the past. Tom rallies the troops, but a more daunting prospect looms across the lake: a lavish log palace, only slightly smaller than Old Faithful Inn, constructed by Tom's lifelong rival, Jimmy Murtaugh (Levy), who has but eight children, about a zillion bucks, a gorgeous third wife (Electra) and who now owns almost the entire resort community.

Murtaugh's strict discipline has resulted in offspring who excel at everything but experience feelings of mounting rebellion toward their obnoxious martinet father. Since childhood Jimmy has been jealous of Tom for his popularity, especially with girls, and, to be sure, this ancient rivalry will flare up, but not before the Baker and Murtaugh children get to know and like each other.

To his credit, Shankman smoothly forges a cast of some 25 principals to form an engaging ensemble with the focus on Martin and Levy's deft sparring. Hunt is graciously understated as a wise wife and mother, but what helps lift the film above the usual is the way in which Electra's Sarina is written and played. Despite her spectacular looks, Sarina refuses to be a mere trophy wife, wishes her husband would grow up, wants genuinely to be a good stepmother and asks Hunt's Kate for advice. Electra is delightful: She helps humanize Levy's overbearing Jimmy and thereby gives the film an unexpected dimension.

Many families are likely to find "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" a holiday treat.


`Cheaper by the Dozen 2'

MPAA rating: PG for some crude humor and mild language

Times guidelines: Appropriate family fare

A 20th Century Fox release. Director Adam Shankman. Producers Shawn Levy, Ben Myron. Screenplay by Sam Harper; based on characters created by Craig Titley and based upon the novel "Cheaper by the Dozen" by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cinematographer Peter James. Editors Christopher Greenbury, Matthew Cassel. Music John Debney. Costumes Joseph G. Aulisi. Production designer Cary White. Art director Peter Grundy. Set decorator Patricia Cuccia. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

In general release.

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