| Steve Martin stars in the unfunny Cheaper by the Dozen. (courtesy photo)
Dir. Shawn Levy; writ. Sam Harper; feat. Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff (PG)
Steve Martin has turned out to be a much savvier sailor of the cultural winds than we might have expected when the Jerk first klutzed into our lives a couple of decades ago. Sometime post-election 2000, Martin stuck his director's finger into the air, caught a stiff breeze from the direction of Pat Robertson, and decided to remake Parenthood as a Mary Kate and Ashley production (sans the twins, unfortunately, though perky Hilary Duff does her best to be wholesome).
This roughage-free confection is about a couple with the temerity to produce 12 biological offspring in the age of birth control and global warming, who then decide it is a dereliction of duty to also try to have real careers. The narrative conceit, which also presumably saves the family from food stamps and one of the seedier variety of trailer parks, is that the mother writes a book (yes, titled Cheaper by the Dozen) that becomes a national best-seller.
If the movie is meant as satire it falls on its own candy cane; if Martin is sincere in offering us this drivel as a parable, audiences ought to be launching used Pampers and baby formula cans at screens across the nation. Parenthood was a smart, wry, and sympathetic send-up of the American family as it has been forever modified by economic pressures, sexual liberation, and cultural upheaval. Cheaper by the Dozen, despite the occasional adroit moment, is a recidivist piece of fluff whose villain is a parody of the uptight mother of a single (unhappy, of course) child. If the film was meant as a loving tribute to the joys of a large family, Martin misses the mark by flogging the extremes at either end of the spectrum. Saddest of all, though, is watching Martin grimace at the camera through some very unfunny slapstick skits. Ah, Steve, we hardly knew ye. •