Tom Baker would like the fact that his movie now has a sequel. Because a sequel means he's winning, right? And Mr. Baker loves to win. What makes him endearing and special, though, is that he loves his family more. So much more that he's quit his job as a college football coach to spend more time at home.
He's just in time to watch his nest do something it's never done before—get smaller. Oldest daughter Nora and her husband are moving to Houston. Recent graduate Lorraine is headed to New York for a magazine internship. Eldest son Charlie is unhappy with going to college in Chicago and wants to move further north.
With "life blazing by" quicker than they'd like—evidenced by tomboyish preteen Sarah's sudden attraction to boys—Tom and wife Kate decide to round the troops up for one last summer memory at the family's old vacation spot on Lake Winnetka. But with old memories come old rivalries, or at least that's true for Tom and his longtime nemesis, Jimmy Murtaugh, who now owns most of the lake's properties. No sooner do the two ultra-competitive dads meet than a challenge for the local Labor Day Cup is renewed—much to the chagrin of the rest of both families.
As in the first Cheaper by the Dozen (both the original and the remake), large family units are not only highlighted, they're praised for all their glorious pros and cons. No matter what the situation, no matter who's mad at whom or who's done what, ultimately the Baker family pulls together. On numerous occasions, siblings stick up for one another and help each other out. That tight-knit environment is established by the obvious love parents Tom and Kate have for their children. "We give them love and guidance—what else is there?" Kate responds when Tom ponders if their loose parenting style has caused the kids to be too rambunctious.
Indeed, parenting—or at least the powerful effect parents have on shaping their children—takes center stage this go-round. Tom wrestles with how much influence he really has on his kids, especially when he compares them to the seemingly perfect Murtaugh clan, groomed by the materialistic Jimmy who can't stop bragging about his latest purchase or his kids' latest achievements. But despite their numerous accolades and accomplishments, the Murtaugh kids are ultimately unhappy and detached from their father because of his unyielding ways.
In the end, both dads realize that there is room to improve and apologize to their families for being obsessed with competition and comparisons. (Their families are quick to forgive.) Tom and Jimmy learn about the fine balance between being overbearing and giving their children so much leeway that they stray. While the film ultimately sides with the looser style of Tom and Kate—and the merits of that can be debated forever—it clearly raises questions about the effectiveness of both "too loose" and "too strict." And it concludes that love and compassion must remain a constant no matter what style a family chooses.
Tom is honored by his kin with a poignant statement from Nora: "You taught us there's no way to be a perfect parent but about a million ways to be a great one. And you're about as good as it gets." The families—who, aside from the fathers, genuinely like each other—also come together during a crisis.
In dealing with her daughter's first crush, Kate encourages Sarah to "never be anybody but yourself" and reminds Tom that their daughter "needs to know she can trust us." Kate combats Sarah's poor self-image by telling her that she's beautiful with or without makeup. Their heart-to-heart talk shows the importance of parents looking beyond a child's actions to deeper matters. (It should be noted, however, that Sarah's actions—namely attempting to steal from a store—seem to go without consequence.)
The Baker kids appreciate the value of hard work taught by their parents. And Tom tempers his competitiveness long enough to assure his family, "I don't care if we win or lose, I just want you to do your best."
Jimmy is full of bad behaviors, from chauvinistically calling Tom's wife "hot" to constantly bragging about his wealth. His egotism, however, is used to show the shallowness of striving for things. In the end, the moral of the story is obvious: Loving your family matters more than all the stuff in the world.
Strangely, for a movie targeting families, Cheaper by the Dozen 2's script seems obsessed with cleavage. Mostly that of Jimmy's young wife, Sarina. The camera stares as she offers an obvious double entendre, spreading her arms wide and inviting the Bakers into her home by saying, "Welcome to the Boulders." Later, both families gawk at the revealing top Kate is forced to borrow from Sarina. And an awkwardly long scene has the Bakers' dog climbing up on Sarina, nuzzling her chest, pushing her down and generally mauling her in a, shall we say, overly amorous way.
Charlie ogles the Murtaughs' oldest daughter as she swims in a bikini. (The camera does likewise, zooming in on a tattoo on the small of her back.) Sarina also shows herself off in a very skimpy bikini.
Two of the Bakers' youngest ask what being conceived means, but Kate interrupts before their sister can fully enlighten them. A tweenage Murtaugh kisses Sarah on the cheek. Tom demonstrates to Jimmy a typical adolescent boy's "move" on a date by putting his arm around him and cuddling up to him in a theater, much to the snickering dismay of those seated around them.
Kate and Tom make several sly references to the sex they've enjoyed together. Soaked, Kate makes a joke about a wet T-shirt contest.
Played strictly for laughs, Tom takes hard tumbles throughout, whether that's while water skiing, riding a defective tire swing, or during a log-spinning contest. (The latter incident is particularly wince-inducing as he lands hard on his crotch.) A docked boat explodes after a backpack full of fireworks accidentally catches fire; the boat's motor comes crashing down on a buffet table. Another firecracker is tossed into a fireplace, which sends ash flying everywhere. While chasing a rat, the Bakers nearly turn their cabin upside down. Kids drive a golf cart through a tennis court, ripping apart the fence and net. Tom almost falls from a movie theater balcony. And in two scenes that are easily the least amusing in the movie, a man in a wheelchair falls into the lake.
Nora's husband inadvertently gets hit in the face with a volleyball. In an attempt to catch the rat, a boy throws his skateboard at a wall, creating a large hole. Lorraine slaps her brother-in-law to force him to regain his composure. During the movie's outtakes, Sarina rolls down a small hill after the dog jumps on her.
Crude or Profane Language
Jesus' name is misused once for no rhyme or reason. God's name is interjected a half-dozen times, while "gosh" is used on a couple of other occasions. "P-ssed" and "butt" are each said once. There's a bit of name-calling, too. Lorraine calls one of her sisters a "butch."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Tom and Kate both drink. There's mention of scotch, beer, wine and mimosas. A roomful of adults are shown with drinks in hand, and a couple of characters down glasses of wine.
Other Negative Elements
Very little is said about the damage done by childish (and often willful) pranks. Firecrackers are set off. Skateboards are thrown through walls. Meat is stowed away in a seat cushion to entice the Baker dog to attack. But nobody ever seems to get into much trouble. Indeed, the latter stunt is perpetrated after Tom begs Sarah to get in touch with her "dark gifts" and set up a practical joke that will humiliate Jimmy. Tom agrees to grant her immunity from punishment and that "boring spiel about the difference between what's right and wrong" if the prank works.
Comments are made about animal "scat" and "poop," and passed gas. Boys start to chew and then spit out hors d'oeuvres seconds before a man unknowingly eats them.
Based on the overwhelmingly negative reviews it is receiving, you'd think Cheaper by the Dozen 2 was a shoo-in for "Worst Movie of the Year." Critics are lambasting its formulaic script and its predictable slapstick humor. They're even taking pot shots at Steve Martin for "selling his soul" by unnecessarily cashing in on the first film's success with a largely uninspired performance.
Don't believe everything you read. Although this sequel lacks philosophic depth in dealing with real-life family issues, and though its story is mostly a rip-off of John Candy's The Great Outdoors, it isn't as bad as it's being labeled. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say it measures up to the first remake. For some, that's not saying much. But for those who enjoy their pro-family messages wrapped in warm-hearted Hallmark moments, the movie delivers.
Unfortunately, that's not the whole kit and caboodle, as Tom might say. I admire director Adam Shankman's decision to preach in support of families, however large they may be. I loved his juxtaposition of relaxed and domineering parenting styles. But can someone tell me why he felt compelled to fixate on Carmen Electra's cleavage and curves? Or why he included a strident abuse of Jesus' name? Or why, in the midst of excellent parenting examples, he decided to gloss over glaring cases of kids behaving badly? It just doesn't seem to fit. If you're going to make a film that only families will want to see, then make a film that families can see without having to wince and squirm.