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Friday, November 28, 2003
CHEAPER IS STILL TOO MUCH

I was really rather excited to see the new Cheaper By the Dozen. Starring two of Hollywood's smart actors, who happen to also be good writers, Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin, I figured this remake would be a heart-warming and funny family film for the holiday season.

Sadly, there are much less than a dozen laughs here, and probably several dozen awkward group hugs between actors whom we never believe have any real bond. Poor Bonnie and Steve seem pretty embarrassed all throughout.

The problems with Cheaper all flow from a bad script - basically too many actors, but not enough good characters to go around. (This isn't surprising as there were too many writers to go around on this project. I counted seven, with the principal writer being Craig Titley whose previous credit was the provocative and compelling Scooby-Doo. ) All of the kids are given cursory storylines that can be summed up as : evil kid; vain kid; sullen teenager kid; slutty oldest female kid; fat kid; shy kid with frog; cute twin kids; etc.

The writer makes the HUGE mistake of sending Bonnie off to New York and out of the movie for most of the second act. Bad idea. Real bad. Bonnie is half of the best part of this project. The other huge script mistake is that the movie's stakes are just not high enough. Getting and holding a job as a college football coach just ain't that universal and compelling a theme to engage the sympathies of the global audience.

There was lots of potential here to make a positive statement about family life and the gift that large families and many children can be. Certainly, this is why Bonnie Hunt was attracted by the project. She keeps making projects that have this kind of tone. Unfortunately, the principal writer doesn't really get why people would ever want to have a big family, so, he has to explain it away as the result of a series of "accidents." There is another completely unnecessary plotline about the oldest daughter living with her idiot boyfriend - played oh, so convincingly by Ashton Kutcher.

There are food fights here, but nothing really nourishing. There is cuteness, but no real charm. There are loads of good intentions here, but too little of anything else to justify recommending this film. But do rent the 1950 original. It's much better.