Another “Cheaper by the Dozen?” With an inter-racial couple and their huge but “no, not a cult” family, tested by racism, mistrust and sudden affluence?
Sure, why not.
And no, that’s not a ringing endorsement for Disney’s latest reboot of the kid-filled/kid-friendly frolic that was the book by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, the basis of many a movie since first hitting the screen in 1950.
This Gabrielle Union/Zach Braff vehicle has a few laughs but seriously misses the point of how comical the logistics of managing such a brood can be. It includes some tetchy moments dealing with racial profiling and what White folks don’t know about “how to raise Black kids,” and stumbles clumsily as it turns away from the “struggles” of the family and falls into McMansion affluence.
But it’s harmless enough, even if it barely rises above background noise for parents and kids distracted by whatever else is going on while you watch it.
The Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk scripted take on “Cheaper” opens with an eight minute voice-over montage that skips through the no fault divorces and meet-almost-cute that brought this Baker Bunch together. Paul is a college drop-out who took up restaurant work to support himself, his new wife (Erika Christensen) and their baby, which led to Baker’s Breakfast, the breakfast-all-day restaurant he and his “unpaid exploited infant workforce” run after his divorce.
Zoey was the also-newly-divorced from a pro footballer mom who came in as a customer, demanded breakfast off the lunch menu and suggested the whole “breakfast all day” thing to the guy she was destined to fall for. Their “meet cute” was her dropping that “unpaid exploited workforce” line.
As they join families, and then have two sets of twins themselves, and take in his “rehab” bound sister’s troubled teen (Luke Prael), well that makes a dozen Baker’s and Bakers by proxy.
There’s always preschool mayhem afoot among “the littles” in this mob, inattentively watched by “free” babysitter Kate, the ex-wife. And the older kids are settling into personalities which could point to conflict — basketball-obsessed Deja (Journee Brown) who is all about being her rich jock biological father’s (Timon Kyle Durrett) kid, smart and nerdy DJ (Andre Robinson) who has nothing in common with that biological father, “playa” Indian adopted godson Haresh (Aryan Simhadri), the would-be “influencer” (Kylie Rogers), the wheelchair-bound punk rocker (Caylee Blosinski).
But the kids are largely an under-developed “workforce,” here.
It’s a story that could stand some updating, and here deals with much more modern concerns such as post-divorce childrearing, keeping track of anybody old enough to be dating in a more sexual era and acceptance and tolerance. This last issue bursts to the fore when Paul’s idea for a “hot, sweet and savory sauce” makes them rich.
Yes, they move on up, to a de-luxe McMansion in the ‘burbs. That’s handled so perfunctorily that one wonders why all the “pitch” to venture capitalists and distractions of “franchising” wasn’t dispensed with altogether. Why not just have the Bakers win the Lotto? Not that this would be any funnier.
As their new community and new neighbors profile then, idm is.
the family has to learn to listen to one another, to recognize the strain of acquisitive “success” and figuring out how one steps back from that.
The conflicts here often feel drawn from real life but are introduced purely as plot devices. “My two dads” cheer the hoops star from the stands, leading to a funny-only-to-tiny-tots dad “dance-off.” The “troubled kid” is suspected of stealing and the new rich neighbors are all racial profiling “Karens,” no matter what their actual names are.
The adults involved are sitcom and big-screen comedy/dramedy veterans and make the few funny lines land. Union’s “spitfire” persona meshes well enough with Braff’s dweeby baggage.
But while all the topicality and inclusion here makes the picture modern, none of the new material is rendered in funny tones.
The premise of the book, and the first film made from it (in 1950, a “Cheaper” we see the Bakers watching on TV) is that dad fancies himself an efficiency expert, “experimenting” on the proper logistics of managing a family this large. Abandoning that, when you’ve set up shop in a family-operated restaurant, was a mistake. Because there’s little that’s “efficient” and plenty that could be amusing about herding roughhousing kids with just a couple of sets of eyes, and serving the lyric in the process.
The efficiency of this approach to the material is basically just blanding it down to look like every other “big family” comedy ever filmed. “Cheaper” in this case plays like a TV pilot, one that could use a lot more laughs.
Rating: PG for thematic elements, suggestive material, and language
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Zach Braff, Erika Christensen, Timon Kyle Durrett, Journee Brown, Andre Robinson, Aryan Simhadri, Luke Prael, Christian Cote, Sebastian Cote, Kylie Rogers, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Leo Abelo Perry and Caylee Blosinski
Credits: Directed by Gail Lerner, scripted by Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk, based on the novel by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. A Walt Disney release on Disney+.
Running time: 1:47