Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Adam Shankman
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 94 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Surround 2.0 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: January 5, 2010
Review Date: January 7, 2010
A completely predictable and unimaginative domestic slapstick comedy, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 reunites the actors who had made the original film two years earlier such a hit and puts them in an all too familiar summer escapist farce with little subtlety and no wit. Many of the actors are talented (and some have grown into mammoth stars since this film was released), but the material they’re playing is shopworn, and apart from some arresting visuals of the natural beauty of the Canadian countryside, there’s not a lot here that’s praiseworthy.
The huge family Baker decides to spend one last summer holiday together before the older children begin taking jobs that move their lives out of the immediate orbit of Chicago where they’re now ensconced. So, it’s off to Lake Winnetka, Wisconsin, where patriarch Tom Baker (Steve Martin) runs into old-time nemesis Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy) whose own large family has seemingly bested the Bakers in just about every imaginable way. Naturally, the vacation turns into a showdown to prove which family has lake bragging rights. Meanwhile various members of the competing families – Charlie Baker (Tom Welling) and Anne Murtaugh (Jaime King) and Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner) and Eliot Murtaugh (Taylor Lautner) begin exploring their mutual attractions to one another.
Sam Harper’s screenplay works in practically every decrepit old house gag for the Bakers (down to a resident rat who steals anything that isn’t nailed down) and every upper class convenience for the Murtaughs (including an aqua-trampoline and a mansion-sized lake house that would make Windsor Castle seem small), and none of it is remotely funny. Steve Martin spends much of the movie doing pratfalls due to the brood’s rambunctious dog and deteriorating cabin, again all so telegraphed and unfunny as to be wince-inducing. We see fireworks in a satchel; we know they’re going to be accidentally set off. The Bakers' pregnant daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) decides to take part in the canoe race; we know her water is going to break en route. There isn’t a surprise to be found in the film’s 94 minutes. There is one moment to savor: when adolescent daughter Sarah gets her first crush and asks her sister Lorraine (Hilary Duff) for help with make-up, the child’s emergence into the first blush of young womanhood is quite lovingly handled and makes for the best and truest scene in the movie. For once, everything seems of this world: a simple, real moment of true family interaction. Too bad there wasn’t more of that present in the movie.
Steve Martin is an ace physical and verbal comedian when given wonderful material (he’s never bettered his performance in All of Me). Here, with the tattered remnants of slapstick comedy set-ups, he just seems tired and desperate. Eugene Levy, another inspired improvisational comedian, has nothing of substance to work with here and is well below the wonderful performances he’s given in those Christopher Guest improv comedies. Bonnie Hunt as Martin’s wife has few chances to shine though she does radiate a warm presence, and Carmen Electra, as Levy’s trophy wife, looks sensational and seems more grounded and natural than her three more famous comic co-stars. Alyson Stoner and Taylor Lautner seem the most natural of the younger children tiptoeing into adolescence.
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a very sharp and pleasing image, filled with accurate but not overly saturated color and natural skin tones. The Canadian locations (masquerading for Wisconsin) look wonderful with only just that added something missing that separates reference quality transfers from those that are merely excellent. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is rather subdued for the most part despite all of the slapstick hijinks in the picture, but there are occasional interesting uses of the split surrounds. One particular moment that stands out involves a campfire singalong on opposite sides of the lake with the Bakers’ voices coming from the rear right channel and the Murtaughs’ voices coming from the rear left. There isn’t much for the LFE channel to do in the mix despite the fireworks meltdown which gets minimally exploited in the soundfield.
The audio commentary is provided by director Adam Shankman who seems to have enjoyed himself immensely on the project and sits through the screening remembering various aspects of the people and places as they appear before him. There are occasional moments where he goes silent, but he’s good-natured and easygoing for this satisfactory commentary track.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session” presents the film’s casting director along with the screenwriter, director, and several actors from the production discussing the casting of the kids, their stand-ins, and their stunt doubles for the picture (a total of sixty children needed for these roles). This runs 8 minutes.
“Camp Chaos” is the behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the movie with director Adam Shankman, and stars Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, and Bonnie Hunt discussing the shoot and what it’s like working with so many children. It’s the most substantial bonus featurette at 10 ¼ minutes.
“A Comedic Trio” is a paean to Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, and Bonnie Hunt by other cast members, the director, and the three of them extolling the virtues of the one another. It runs for 5 ½ minutes.
There are two theatrical trailers. The first runs for 2 ¼ minutes and the second runs for 2 ½ minutes.
2.5/5 (not an average)
Good-natured, predictable, and imminently forgettable, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 doesn’t really offer the viewer anything in a domestic comedy that he hasn’t seen before. The excellent actors don’t have much to work with here but are professional and hardworking in producing a passable comedy with little or no flair. The Blu-ray release is a pleasing video and audio package with rather mundane bonus supplements as an added incentive.