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‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ tries so hard yet says so little

Remake of beloved film misses mark in every way imaginable

<p>While attempting to tackle topical social issues, a remake of ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ fails to do so with necessary nuance.</p><p>Courtesy of 20th Century Studios</p>

While attempting to tackle topical social issues, a remake of ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ fails to do so with necessary nuance.

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Asking if this year’s remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen” is an uninspired, hollow mess would be like asking, “Is the pope Catholic?” In both cases, the answer goes beyond “yes.” Just like how the pope is not just a Catholic but the figure that Catholicism revolves around, “Cheaper by the Dozen” is the new baseline all other tired and repetitive family “comedies” can bow down to. Some movies are so bad they’re good — or at least enjoyable to watch — but “Cheaper by the Dozen” never crosses that threshold. It knows where that threshold is and comes close to it, but the movie ultimately remains firmly, unironically bad. At its best, “Cheaper by the Dozen” is aggressively mediocre, and at its worst it's a viewing experience you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. 

The main issue present throughout the entire movie is that it tries to say so much, but takes no time to flesh out any of its ideas. The movie follows a mixed-race blended family put to the test when its restaurant business begins to franchise. The plot quickly loses cohesion, devolving into various random chapters of this family's daily life. Within these chapters, complex questions about race and identity are shoved in without any nuance. 

In one scene, Dom Clayton (Timon Kyle Durrett), the ex-husband of Zoey Baker (Gabrielle Union), the female protagonist, confronts Baker’s current husband Paul Baker (Zach Braff) over his ability to raise Black kids as a white man. This question obviously holds a lot of gravity and the film attempts to tackle it. But the movie never thoroughly engages with the problem, confining it to one brief scene, seemingly just placed there to check off a box without any consideration for the content itself. In fact, almost every instance of the film attempting to be socially aware reeks of focus-grouped ideas coming from the minds of executives who lack real experience with any of them. 

The film also makes an attempt to talk about the effect of broken households on kids through the character of Seth (Luke Prael), Paul’s nephew who gets adopted by the family when his mother enters rehab. Throughout the entire movie, Seth is a misunderstood kid assumed to be a problem child, and there is absolutely no subtlety when addressing any of it. Just like in the aforementioned scene about parenting, Seth’s monologues about how he is misunderstood and doesn’t fit in anywhere take the movie to a screeching halt with little thoughtfulness or payoff.

These scenes, while already poorly written, are complemented by the acting and camera work as much as orange juice is complemented by toothpaste. Every line delivered feels like a first-take read off of a teleprompter under soap opera lighting. Everything is flat and uninspired, making an already bad movie completely devoid of any interest. The acting doesn’t need to be transcendent and the cinematography doesn’t need to be epic, but there needs to be some sign of care in the filmmaking. 

“Cheaper by the Dozen,” which is now the second remake of the same story, offers absolutely no reason for its existence. The previous incarnation of the movie in 2003 starring Steve Martin, itself a remake of a 1950 film of the same name, is by no means high cinema, but it’s fun, charming and doesn’t take itself too seriously. This film is the exact opposite. 

The attempts at humor in the 2022 version range from nonexistent to confusing, and there are absolutely no laugh-out-loud moments. The movie is so preoccupied with trying to feign social importance that it forgets everything that makes a movie like this work. The movie seems to think it’s better than slapstick and irreverent humor and would never reach those lows. The racial and social issues posed throughout the film are ripe for exploration, but instead the film completely trivializes them in very brief exchanges. The rest of the film then ends up being boring and annoyingly quasi-wholesome with no substance to back it up. 

Most children’s movies shouldn’t be put under such a strong microscope. They serve a specific purpose, and if they do it well, they should be respected. But it would be baffling if any child really connected with anything in this movie. There’s no real humor for any viewer to appreciate. The story is vague and meandering, and the acting is expressionless. But what the film does try to do is executed in a dumbed-down way that no adult could ever respect but would still go over a child’s head. Its purpose is as ill-defined as its characters. “Cheaper by the Dozen” takes a haphazardly thought-out story grafted onto established intellectual property in the hopes of earning some views. The film feels like it was concocted by robots in a not-very-well-respected lab — a lab which it never should have left.



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