If what you've been waiting for this holiday season is a special five-part Brady Bunch vacation story strung together and slapped up on the big screen, it's arrived. Purportedly "based upon" Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's novel Cheaper by the Dozen (and characters conceived by Craig Titley), Cheaper by the Dozen 2 reunites the Baker clan for more pratfalling hijinks, wanton destruction, and syrupy lessons.
When Tom Baker (Martin) feels abandoned by his elder children (because they're busy getting married, having their own children, studying, or working jobs, the ungrateful whelps), he insists that the family get together for one last vacation at Lake Winnetka. The Baker clan are obviously moneyed, but not moneyed enough for Tom's taste. At least that's the conclusion he draws when he becomes reacquainted with old high-school rival Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy, in a skunk-haired coif).
Murtaugh has bought out most of Lake Winnetka for the personal enjoyment of his third trophy wife (Carmen Electra) and brood of eight—not too much enjoyment, mind you, since he's driving his kids to overachievement (a daily minimum of two hours of study, even on the lake). In some kind of Hollywood in-joke, director Adam Shankman depicts the Murtaugh kids huddled around a copy of Hollywood film producer and personal manager Larry A. Thompson's motivational "self-help" book Shine.
Naturally, Tom takes Jimmy's success as a thrown gauntlet. The Bakers must keep up with the Joneses, and the men's mutual jealousy ultimately leads to a camp-style competition between the families: three-legged race, egg-tossing, canoe race, and the like—the wives merely sigh and let their husbands act like animals. Oh, there'll be splashing and runaway critters, and—did I mention?—Piper Perabo's Nora Baker is just about due to give birth (now, no fair guessing the ending!). Thank goodness for small favors, like Shankman's relatively subtle direction (relative only to the first film's Shawn Levy) and the stilletto delivery of Bonnie Hunt as Tom's wife Kate.
Sam Harper's script and Shankman's direction develop a mostly unpleasant tone. In a parenting sweepstakes, love and guidance face off against strict overprotectiveness. Then there's the smugness surrounding personal wealth ("It's not much, but I call it a second home"), an implicit clash of the secular and religious (a musical battle of "Michael Finnegan" and "Let the Circle Be Unbroken"), and the insane drives of competition and jealousy.
Obviously, "lessons" shall be "learned," but nothing truly edifying for parents or kids in the audience. If I may quote Hunt's voice-over narration—ahem, "Life is a voyage that's homeward bound." And that's not long after the once-subversive Martin cries a single tear while rediscovering family like Scrooge did Christmas. Okay, everybody, back to your shopping—there's nothing to see here.
The chief distractions from the main plot are not one but two budding romances between the feuding families. Charlie Baker (Tom Welling of Smallville) falls for Anne Murtaugh (Jaime King), who encourages him to individuate from his smothering family. Meanwhile, pubescent puppy love reaches tomboyish Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner) and Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner); as subplots go, Sarah's coming-out is rather sweet, at least until the patriarchs ruin their night out at the movies (oh, the irony!).
When an usher with a flashlight walks down the steps of a multiplex balcony to shush Martin and Levy from talking and disrupting the experience of other moviegoers, it finally hit me: Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is some kind of a science-fiction movie. And don't think I didn't notice the subtle Shark Boy vs. Superboy subplot—Superboy didn't use his heat vision or anything, but he was obviously thinking about it.
At five years old, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 looks good in its Blu-ray debut. The bright and colorful image features accurate contrast and a solid black level while providing strong detail; in short, the transfer does just fine with this undemanding family comedy. Other than a few bursts of slapstick action, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is quite mild, but it gets the job done with a well-balanced mix that nicely prioritizes dialogue.
The primary extra is a commentary by director Adam Shankman, who waxes enthusiastic about his sprawling cast and recalls anecdotes about the shoot.
"Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session" (8:03, SD) is an interesting little featurette that explores the casting process, though not as deeply as one migh hope. Interviewees include Shankman, screenwriter Sam Harper, casting director Monica Swann, Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, Carmen Electra, and Bonnie Hunt.
"Camp Chaos" (10:17, SD) is a making-of featurette including interview clips of Shankman, Martin, Electra, Levy, Brent & Shane Kinsman, Hilary Duff, Liliana Mumy, Kevin G. Schmidt, Piper Perabo, Forrest Landis, Jaime King, Hunt, Jacob Smith, Blake Woodruff, and Taylor Lautner.
"A Comedic Trio" (5:27, SD) finishes the thought by focusing on the work of the leads. Electra, King, Alyson Stoner, Martin, Hunt, Levy, Lautner, Landis, Brent & Shane Kinsman, Woodruff, and Shankman participate.
Last up are "Theatrical Trailer #1" (2:10, SD) and "Theatrical Trailer #2" (2:26, SD).
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