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Cheaper by the Dozen Review

Cheaper by the Dozen premieres Friday, March 18 on Disney+.

Disney’s latest revival of Cheaper by the Dozen — a soft franchise that boasts two previous movies (and one sequel) based off a semi-autobiographical book from the ’40s — depicts a large, frantic family and the kooky chaos involved with raising and managing such a bustling brood. Starring Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union, this latest incarnation of the Bakers’ overcrowded homestead is a mirthful mixed bag of biting humor and shmaltzy magic fixes.

This new Cheaper by the Dozen plays like a series of chapters strung together. This structure, of break-out bits and mini-arcs, helps balance out the large ensemble, though there’s still a handful of Baker kids who don’t quite make the cut, spotlight-wise. One daughter, Caylee Blosenski’s Harley, gets a fascinating intro but then nothing comes of it. Ah well. Sounds like a real family, right? Some kids get unduly outshined. Still, the pacing of the movie, which bounces through these smaller entanglements while also dealing with the larger story of the entire family relocating to a gated community in Calabasas (the 2003 Steve Martin movie also involved a big move), helps give everything a sweet episodic feel.

Cheaper by the Dozen also makes a few changes to the family formula, for the better, by not only portraying a interracial marriage and biracial children, but also a blended family (some kids biologically belong to Braff’s Paul and some to Union’s Zoe). Throw in Paul’s nephew, who winds up in need of a stable(r) home, and you’ve got a way more understandable source of mayhem than just “this woman, because reasons, gave birth to 12 children.” In fact, for what it’s worth, this story hits you with a much more reasonable nine kids scenario, with Paul, Zoe, and cousin Seth (Luke Prael) making up the rest of the “dozen.” The messiness and madness are still abound, but the design of it feels nicely updated and more organic.

There’s also a silly assortment of odd edges in this new Cheaper resurrection, like Paul’s ex-wife, played by Erika Christensen, being sort of a flakey extra member of the family (making it an actual Baker’s Dozen?) or the fact that Paul’s skyrocketing career involves a food sauce that can change flavors (injecting a slight “Flubber science” vibe). Zoe’s ex is also a big part of the story, as an NFL star (Timon Kyle Durrett) who pushes all of Paul’s insecure buttons. There are enough unique angles here to make this crowded clan feel extra energetic, but the downside is the blending of astute and stupid.

At times Cheaper by the Dozen is wise in humor and sentiment and in others it plays like dopey, sloppy slapstick. Obviously this is a kids/family movie; there’s no shame in that game. It’s meant to entertain young minds, so part of that will have to involve “dad being an idiot” and “giant messes have no consequences” moments. It’s designed to play fast and loose with real life, but the tonal changeup involved is sometimes too jarring. Braff has well-established comedy chops, for sure, so he’s able to handle the errant dance-off or the impromptu costume change, but it’s still a little tedious to watch a character make bonehead decisions for 90% of a story.

It is notable, however, that Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t present an interracial blended family without also addressing the imbalance between Paul’s privilege and the experiences of bigotry that Zoe endures. In fact, Paul’s perspective deficit is called out a few times, and the film even brings into question his ability to raise Black children with the necessary understanding. Love just might not be enough to hold a few family dynamics afloat if Paul can’t acknowledge certain differences in experience. It’s an unexpectedly keen, and welcome, observation for family fare. But there’s no actual resolution to this because the story, overall, still relies on quick sitcom-style fixes.

Cheaper by the Dozen stumbles and surprises in almost equal measure.

Braff and Union are in fine form as the parental units, playing off each other well, providing a loving and believable foundation, and giving us two characters you buy as willing architects of this madhouse. You will have to decide, however, what perhaps the least believable thing about all of this is. The size of the family, the unspoken amount of money involved with buying full mansion in Calabasas (this is not the movie for those with financial anxiety), or the way Paul transforms from enlightened being to straight-up clown in the blink of an eye. The teen/kid performers are well suited — particularly Journee Brown’s Deja, Andre Robinson’s DJ, and Aryan Simhadri’s Haresh — as Cheaper by the Dozen stumbles and surprises in almost equal measure.

Author: Matt Fowler. [Source Link (*), IGN All]