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Avoid cheesy ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’

Slapstick and pratfalls rule the day in this lame family comedy. By David Germain
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Cheaper by the Dozen” might be more appropriately titled “Cheesier by the Dozen.”

Other than the title, this supposed remake bears virtually no resemblance to the admirable 1950s film or autobiographical memoir the earlier movie was based on.

But the title and basic notion of a couple struggling to raise 12 children were the only things the studio and filmmakers figured they could profitably ram down audiences’ throats.

So gone is the touching, authentic portrait of the joys and rigors of bringing up lots of babies, which the film starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy and the book by siblings Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey rendered so well.

Pratfalls and sight gagsIn its place, we get Steve Martin as father of the brood, bumbling through an increasingly puerile string of pratfalls and sight gags. Director Shawn Levy applies the same lowbrow sensibility here as he did on his previous flicks, “Just Married” and “Big Fat Liar.”

Martin’s ever-affable comic charm holds the movie aloft for a while, but “Cheaper by the Dozen” eventually drowns in schmaltz and inanity.

The book and original movie were based on the Gilbreths’ childhood in the early 1900s among a family of 12 children who were subject to their efficiency-expert father’s rigid sense of pragmatism.

The new movie jettisons all of that, transplanting the story to contemporary times, converting the father to a college football coach and altering the family name to Baker (you can almost hear the little hamster wheel turning in some movie executive’s head on the sequel, “Cheaper by the Baker’s Dozen”).

After years toiling at a small school, Martin’s Tom Baker lands his dream job as football coach at his alma mater in Chicago. He and wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) uproot their reluctant passel of children, who squawk and moan at leaving behind the only home they’ve ever known.

The family soon faces domestic crises as Kate leaves for a publicity tour to promote her book, naturally called “Cheaper by the Dozen,” leaving Tom behind to keep the household together while he scrambles to squeeze in his gridiron duties.

Grating performancesThe oldest Baker siblings, Nora, Charlie and Lorraine — played by Piper Perabo (“Coyote Ugly”), Tom Welling (Clark Kent in TV’s “Smallville”) and Hilary Duff (“Lizzie McGuire”) — are too caught up in their own lives to offer much help to dear old dad on the child-rearing duties.

That leaves the younger Bakers free to inflict as much mayhem on their new neighborhood as imaginable, with the audience paying the price.

The movie is awash in nauseatingly cute kids who specialize in bratty mischief, much of it directed at Nora’s self-absorbed boyfriend (“Just Married” star Ashton Kutcher, in an uncredited role).

As grating as “Cheaper by the Dozen” is, the movie comes in the heart of the holidays, when even bad family flicks often find an audience.

If the movie can rake in $10 million a head for each of the Baker children, the studio will consider it a fine return on its cheap investment.