Plot: An all-new movie premiering on Disney+, “Cheaper by the Dozen” is a fresh take on the 2003 hit family comedy. It is the story of the raucous exploits of a blended family of 12, the Bakers, as they navigate a hectic home life while simultaneously managing their family business.
Review: Cheaper by the Dozen is a story that was quaint and funny when it first became a movie in 1950. When Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt led the remake in 2003, the idea of a family with twelve kids became fodder for comedy rather than a look at family dynamics. The 2022 take on the material, co-written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, modernizes the idea into a tale of a blended family that tackles every possible combination including race, ethnicity, gender, and physical disability into a story that is relevant enough for virtually any audience to identify with. And, much like Black-ish, it still manages to inject some social commentary in between awkward moments of slapstick comedy. In short, this is a harmless and sweet family film that doesn’t offend but also doesn’t really offer anything special either.
In this updated take on the story, Paul Baker (Zach Braff) is a chef and owner of a breakfast restaurant who has two kids and an adopted son with his ex-wife Kate (Erika Christensen). He meets Zoe (Gabrielle Union), the ex-wife of NFL player Dom Clayton (Timon Kyle Durrett). She has two daughters of her own. After getting married and having two sets of twins, the pair hit success with their business. When investors offer Paul the chance to market his trademark sauce, the family moves to a big house in a gated community and also takes in Paul’s nephew, Seth, whose mother is in rehab. It would seem that everyone is living the dream now but that is where the shift to a new school, new neighborhood, and new relationships begins to push everyone to the edge.
Now, before you get too excited that this story will really dig into some serious issues, it instead provides pretty cliche subplots for many characters that don’t fully get explored. From Zoe getting profiled by neighborhood security to adopted son Haresh getting called Osama at school, many of the discussions about sensitive subjects are had in a vacuum and never really have repercussions throughout the film. Kenya Barris has had some truly powerful episodes of his small-screen series that have examined the impact of race in our modern culture but Cheaper by the Dozen often starts the conversation before moving into safer territory like talking about girls or eldest daughter Deja (Journee Brown) struggling with moving from a basketball team where she is the star to riding the bench.
What this movie does do well is cast Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union as the believable parents of such a large family. While Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt portrayed a more conventional (i.e. safe) set of parents, Braff and Union fully capture what it is like to raise kids in 2022 versus even as recently as twenty years ago. The chemistry between the two works and moments between them where they argue or disagree carry a lot of realism that is, unfortunately, too easily brushed off. So much of this movie feels like it could have been explored more deeply in a ten-episode series which certainly would have led to the stakes of many subplots feeling earned rather than so quickly resolved as the story moves on to the next element. None of the kids get their due with at least half of them only getting a resolution to their narrative in the closing moments that neatly closes the story.
The problem with this take on Cheaper by the Dozen may be the team of talent that has all worked with Kenya Barris before. Barris co-wrote this movie with Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry, a writer of over twelve episodes of Black-ish and Grown-ish. It is also directed by Gail Lerner, a producer on Black-ish and director of eight episodes of that series. While this film started development at 20th Century Studios, it very much feels like a Disney production albeit one that is far too generic for its own good. For a movie that runs almost two hours, you never really feel like it develops any sort of energy and a late push for a subplot involving Paul’s nephew Seth (Luke Prael) is so lazy that it almost ruins the whole movie. Working with kids, especially this many, can be daunting and production took place over an extended COVID-19 hiatus which likely required a lot of reshoots, but there are a lot of scenes that are poorly dubbed to replace the young actors whose voices changed during filming. The entire movie ends up feeling like two hours of little substance and one that never would have warranted a trip to the movie theater, hence the Disney+ debut.
At its best, Cheaper by the Dozen is a cute and harmless family-friendly comedy. At its worst, the film preaches a lot about loving one another and telling everyone the hard truth they need to hear. While that may not sound like a bad thing, the movie ties up everything neatly with minimal stakes despite the start of multiple conversations that really could have led somewhere productive for a movie with as inclusive an audience as this one. Cheaper by the Dozen ends up like so many Disney live-action films from the 1990s and early 2000s but doesn’t push the boundaries it should. It doesn’t resonate nearly as much as Barris’ work on Black-ish and ends up feeling like multiple seasons of a television series quickly rehashed over a two-hour run-time. It is instantly forgettable and pales even compared to the abysmal 2005 sequel to the Steven Martin version.
Cheaper by the Dozen premieres on March 18th on Disney+.