'Cheaper 2': sequel dozen times better than original

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Hey - every dad is entitled to one hideous shirt, and one horrible sweater. It's part of the dad code."

Mine is a red Hawaiian flowered number which my children have never permitted me to wear, not even on Halloween.

"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" rings about as true as that fatherhood comment above from Steve Martin's character, reproductively productive paternalist Tom Baker, in the sequel that opened to a decent eggnog-soaked crowd over the weekend at the Vista III.

I doubt if anyone was expecting much - after all, it is a sequel to a pretty bad 2003 flick that was a remake of a remake of a 1950 movie stolen from a classic book, all leaving the situation pretty darned predictable.

And yet our family was laughing, and feeling good at the end, and that's probably enough for a holiday season movie.

Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as heads of the Baker family of 12 off-kilter offspring. While regathering the family up for one last vacation at the lake, they find themselves in competition with a rival family of eight overachieving brats.

I would hope that the first prize would be a whole bucket of birth control devices.

The story, itself, is about as gaunt as the anorexic-looking Hilary Duff returning as one of the Baker kids. But several subplots run through that turn Dozen 2 into a pretty good movie, and the rare sequel that is considerably better than the original.

There's the aging father still trying to act like a kid - Martin even does a bit of his old signature "Wild and Crazy Guy" dance between canoe racing and wakeboarding outings. Real parenting issues raise their head briefly, and the discomfort of letting go as the older members of the brood begin to fly away for jobs, college and childbirth is captured pretty handily.

And there's a fine little first-love story straight out of Romeo and Juliet, with gawky young Alyson Stoner as Sarah Baker hooking up with a skateboarder lad from the rival clan, the Murtaughs.

The film benefits from the addition of Eugene Levy as the super-competitive head of the Murtaughs, Carmen Electra, as his scorching young trophy bride who turns out to be less clueless than she appears, and a galloping rat, who should get an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Rodent.

The question is, will the rival fathers tear their own families apart in trying to outdo each other at parenting?

The film is nicely shot with rustic lake locations in Canada, portraying the family's Wisconsin getaway spot, so it feels more right than the usual stuff shot in front of a blue screen in a Hollywood sound stage.

The film is completely built around Martin, and not the cutesy kids, and you have to take your hat off to the guy. Here's an over-60-year-old who dates to the Sonny and Cher and Smother Brothers shows who is still doing stunts and churning out hits faster than ever (he just wrote and starred in "Shopgirl," and has "The Pink Panther" and "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" also headed to theaters.

Bonnie Hunt is a little harder to believe - at just 44, having made her debut in "Rain Man" in '88, she's supposed to be the mother of Piper Peribo and Tom Welling, who are both pushing 30. And a showstoppingly perky bod and, perfect hair and makeup on an uncreased mug is a bit much to ask from a women who has supposedly plunked out 12 troublesome bundles over 25 years or so.

The main attraction for teenage boys in the crowd is whiney Duff, who does what she can with a limited role as the family glamorpuss trying to impart some dating wisdom on her younger sister. The rest of the kids are essentially props, only popping up to chastise their immature father now and again.

It's odd to think that Hollywood's famous movie megaparents aren't - both are single divorcees and neither's bio mentions any children.

The critics are slamming Dozen 2 as unoriginal and sentimental, but as usual, people usually enjoy whatever the critics don't.

It's a funny, clean, PG family film with a bit of thought and several good laughs behind it, and that'll do for a thumbs halfway up.