Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Cheaper by the Dozen (2022)’ Is An Overstuffed and Poorly Conceived Re-Remake

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Director: Gail Lerner

Writer: Kenya Barris & Jennifer Rice-Genzuk Henry

Stars: Gabrielle Union, Zach Braff, Erika Christiensen, Timon Kyle Durrett, June Diane Raphael

Synopsis: The raucous exploits of a blended family of 12, the Bakers, as they navigate a hectic home life while simultaneously managing their family business.


 

With the 20th Century library now at Disney’s fingertips, it’s only natural for the studio to start exploiting its pre-established IP and readapt (and re-remake) the studio’s previous work, which includes a reimagining of Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen for Disney+. The book was already adapted twice, first with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy in 1950 (and with a sequel titled Belles on their Toes in 1952), and then with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt in 2003 (and its sequel in 2005), completely overhauling the book’s true story on the Gilbreth family for a more slapstick feel with the Bakers. So, if this new vision of Cheaper by the Dozen is successful, we’re surely getting a sequel (since good things come in twos and it would be a missed opportunity not to do one since the other adaptations did). 

Unfortunately, this is the first Cheaper by the Dozen film I didn’t much care for. Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union play Paul and Zoey Baker, restaurant owners juggling their biracial family of ten children (plus an eleventh one who joins the family later on in the film). Paul dreams that his famous breakfast sauce empties supermarket shelves and is caught in the dream of expanding his small, family-run (and local) restaurant to a franchise, while Zoey must stay home and take care of all the kids by herself. So this is the ol’ switcheroo with the re-remake, in which Steve Martin stayed home to take care of the kids, while Bonnie Hunt went on her book tour. The familiarities are there, and there’s even a meta-reference to the 1950 film, but it wasn’t enough to win me over. 

Technically, Cheaper by the Dozen is a mess. The editing is rough, with random cuts appearing almost at every moment to convey the Bakers’ hectic routine, but that’s a cardinal filmmaking mistake, especially when the camera is framed at such a fixed level and doesn’t want to aid the film’s visual style. Scratch that, there is no visual style. If you look at Shawn Levy’s 2003 remake (or Adam Shankman’s sequel), you can clearly tell that the movie had well-thought-out slapstick sequences that not only required the child actors’ participation but were also able to represent it in a visually enticing way. 

Gail Lerner’s remake doesn’t do that; quick cuts during the opening scene make absolutely no sense and break many continuity rules, while the film’s visual look is so Hallmark Channel-lite it’s not even funny. I know some will say, “but it’s a direct-to-streaming film, what do you expect?”, but that’s not an excuse for the film to look as unengaging as possible, without an ounce of visual creativity at the helm, especially when the last remakes had everything going for them; great visual gags, impeccable child acting, and two great leads. 

Here, the child acting is inconsistent. Some of it is very funny (the twins are great), some of it is fine, and most of it is quite flat, especially Seth (Luke Prael), whose emotionless acting of a distant character is too emotionless and has little personality to make us care about him, especially when he gets into trouble during the film’s latter half. Thankfully, Braff and Union have great chemistry together and keep us wanting to be engaged with the Baker family, even if most of the child actors don’t seem as invested in the project as the lead actors are. I’ve never really seen Braff as a physical comedian, but he is very good here and knows how to hold his fort during physically uncomfortable sequences.

Some of the physical comedy is quite cringe-worthy for 2022’s standards (it feels as if it was written in 1991 around the time of Home Alone), but there are sparse sequences where it works. One in particular, where Paul arrives at an investor meeting in a suit and tie, only to see everyone in the building wear trendy clothes, so he goes back into the van to dress up “hip and cool” as well, and then goes into the conference room and sees a bunch of corporate people in…a suit and tie. It’s a classic joke executed brilliantly. It’s a shame that most of the visual gags fall flat on their face. 

The film’s plot also falls quite flat on its face, overstuffing itself with plenty of touchy themes to talk about, but never deepening any of them; from its surface-level discussions on race, drug addiction, bullying, and street gangs, just to name a few. Sure, it’s written in a way so that kids understand everything going on, but that doesn’t prevent you from writing thoughtful discussions on that subject. There is one scene that comes close to achieving that, in which Paul talks to Zoey’s ex-husband, Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett) near the end of the film, but abruptly stops to have the same climax as the 2003 film, where one kid runs away from one because he is the most “misunderstood” one. It’s another missed opportunity among many missed opportunities. 

In fact, Cheaper by the Dozen is one big missed opportunity. Braff and Union are great together, but the movie wants to do too much, with too little, hindering every good opportunity it has for something awfully familiar and too predictable for its own good. The last remake was predictable, but it had charm from its infectiously hilarious child actors and visual panache that this film does not have because the film seems to act as a gateway for younger children to watch other (and more compelling) Disney IP. Yeah, don’t get me started on the movie ending with one giant Disney cross-promotion, as if The Mouse didn’t have enough money already. 

 

Grade: D

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