It’s been 17 years since the previous iteration of Cheaper by the Dozen, meaning enough time has passed to reboot it again. This time, the spotlight is on diversity and race, since the Bakers are now a biracial family. When Paul (Zach Braff) and Zoey (Gabrielle Union) get married, it becomes a merger of families. Zoey has two children from her previous marriage, while Paul has three. They then have children of their own: two sets of twins. Rounding out the family of twelve is Paul’s nephew Seth (Luke Prael), who comes to live with them after Paul’s sister goes to rehab.
As you can imagine, this is quite a laborious set-up, as the movie has to introduce quite a few characters, as well as the reason why Paul and Zoey’s first marriages didn’t work. After that, there’s another round of introductions as the parents go around the house waking everybody. None of it is particular funny, or heartwarming.
For the previous iteration, at least there was the basis of a love story and a desire for a large family since both of them came from large families themselves. For this version, there really isn’t a sense of why they fell in love, or if they had more children together because they wanted a big family.
There’s no chemistry between Braff and Union, and the Baker family also don’t have much chemistry with each other. There was not a single moment where I believed that these people are a family. None of the interactions feel authentic, and you can feel the inexperience of these young actors. The previous cast had some recognisable faces, like Hilary Duff, Tom Welling and Piper Perabo, and while they weren’t given the best character arcs in the world, their experience helped give the movie some personality, which is sometimes what you need when you have such a big cast to work with.
The film does at times try to start conversations about the inequalities of race, and how Paul simply isn’t able to understand a black person’s reality and experience. It’s great that the film wants to have these discussions, but there isn’t much nuance in the way these topics are handled. Haresh gets bullied because of his race, yet his own siblings, who go to the same school, don’t seem to defend him or even be a source of familiarity. I hate to sound like a broken record, but once again this was better handled in the previous film.
The humour is also pretty lacking, with contrived set pieces that are just bizarre. Did we really need a weird dance-off with bad dancing for like five minutes? The film constantly puts Braff in all these comedic circumstances, maybe because he’s a comedy actor, but it just doesn’t work.
What I did like was the idea of family being more than just blood relations, with Paul clearly invested in all his children and not just his biological ones. Even Seth is considered part of the family and gets much needed affirmation from both Paul and Zoey.
The main conflict is about Paul and Zoey’s business, and how big they want to make it. The success of Paul’s sweet and savory sauce allows the family to relocate to a bigger house, and move the children from public schooling to private. While Paul has stars in his eyes and wants to make the business as successful as possible, Zoey’s more concerned about what that would mean for their family. More money and a bigger house doesn’t always a happy family make.
It feels a tad ironic that we’re meant to look at franchising as being a corporate sell-out, while watching another reboot of a long-standing franchise.
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The main issue here is a lack of cast chemistry. There's some tonal inconsistencies as well, as the film wants to do slapstick and poignant all at once.
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