Cheaper by the Dozen is successful at counting to 12 and basically nothing else.
The Disney-Fox merger has been something of a boon for the House the Mouse built, as it has afforded the studio the opportunity to take any Fox property that possesses even an ounce of recognized name or nostalgia and remake it for mass streaming consumption. Following in the wake of last year’s Disney+ Home Alone redo comes Cheaper by the Dozen, the third go-around for this particular property after the 1950 original and 2003’s mega-hit starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. This ain’t your mama’s Cheaper by the Dozen, though. What was once the story of the most fertile couple on the planet gets a modern-day makeover, as Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff take over the roles of Ma and Pop Baker. Zoey has two kids from a previous marriage, Tom has three including an adopted godchild, and together they gave birth to two sets of twins. I know what you’re thinking: that’s only nine kids. Well, in this version, husband and wife make 11, and when you count the addition of Tom’s New Age-y ex-wife Kate (Erika Christensen) — who is always around to lend a hand as a free babysitter — you get 12. I again know what you’re thinking: that seems like an awful lot of work to get to the titular number. Correct. But if anything, this latest effort actually more closely resembles that most famous of Cheaper by the Dozen rip-offs, Yours, Mine, and Ours, which has also been remade and concerned a blended family, but that’s an MGM property, so no dice here.
This version comes courtesy of director Gail Lerner and writers Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry, all veterans of the ABC sitcom Black-ish, which Barris himself created. To that end, it would be easy to call this Cheaper a glorified sitcom, but the 2003 Shawn Levy remake was basically that anyway, so why not bring in some individuals who know the territory. (No point in even discussing the 1950 original, which basically shares a title and little else.) And so, being sitcom-y, this 2022 edition is of course exceedingly hip: one of the kids wants to be a major social media influencer; the pro basketball hopeful is a girl; there’s a reference to The Fast and the Furious. The Baker clan nurture such dreams in a too-small house in a middle-class neighborhood, working their fingers to the bone at the diner they own. You see, this place is cool because it serves breakfast all day, a fact which this film keeps repeating like it’s some trendy idea and not something IHOP and Denny’s have been doing for decades.
Tom, meanwhile, has created a “sweet and savory and hot sauce,” which instantly becomes a runaway success the second he launches it with the help of corporate backing, allowing the Bakers to move to a snooty, gated community, replete with private schools. Their neighbors are appalled by the large clan, and this is where the story attempts something different. Zoey and her bi-racial children are instantly singled out, forced to endure the casual racism so inherent in neighborhoods of this ilk. Unfortunately, Cheaper by the Dozen has no interest in actually mining this barbed commentary with depth or insight, instead operating under the assumption that simply name-checking the issue earns it points. Later, Zoey’s ex-husband Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett) questions whether Paul even makes a proper father to his son since he will never understand what it is like to grow up as a black male. Again, heady, bold discourse that could have lent substance to a slick Disney venture, but once more, the script simply sidelines such rhetoric almost immediately after introducing it, opting instead for a generic — and fairly offensive given the teased thematic considerations — life lesson of, “Love is all you need.”
For their part, none of the kids have any sort of personality, defined solely by a single unique trait or hobby, making it near impossible to care about or even differentiate them much. And you hate to say it, but the performances by the child actors are uniformly terrible, eliciting not a single laugh — we’ll just blame their direction. Union brings her usual charm to the proceedings, but she has zero chemistry with Braff, and honestly who can blame her? Braff is one of the most inherently unlikable actors working today — why did someone think he was right for this kind of role — and is wearing more makeup in this film than Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. But admittedly, Disney+ is the perfect home for a film like Cheaper by the Dozen, where parents can throw it on and pay little to no attention, thankful they didn’t have to pay $90 for tickets and concessions on such a nothing experience. The fact that this ends with stupid title cards telling you what happens to the various fictional family members, all of them appearing in some of the worst photoshopped snapshots ever to appear on film, speaks to the abysmal quality of this stinker. The only thing cheaper than this dozen is the corporate greed that created it. Now we wait for 2023, when we will undoubtedly be greeted with the most cutting-edge take on The Sandlot the world has ever seen.