As synthetically generic as a “Happy Holidays” card from your realtor, this by-the-numbers pratfall-fest is, at least, a teensy bit better than the 2004 original. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, I want to say something about montages.
Montages are the music-video-style interludes in movies. One you see quite often is the falling-in-love montage, with some sweet pop song in the background as our lovebirds ride a bicycle built for two, squirt water pistols at each other and squeal with laughter, walk hand-in-hand through an outdoor market, and smooch in the moonlight. Once in a while they genuinely help to tell the story, but most of the time they are just a lazy way to keep the audience feeling good without doing any actual work by writing, you know, dialogue to show us why these two people really like each other.
Then there are the trying on clothes montages (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) and the getting yourself or your team or your house in shape montages (Rocky running up the steps) and the passage of time montages. Again, it’s usually just laziness.
When I tell you that this movie features not one but three montages, you get the idea. On the other hand, it’s kind of a relief to be spared the sitcom-style dialogue.
Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as Tom and Kate Baker, parents of 12 children. As their children are growing up, with the two oldest girls moving out of town, they plan one last family vacation at a house on a lake they used to go to when the children were younger. At the lake, they run unto Tom’s old nemesis, the ultra-competitive Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), with his beautiful trophy wife Serina (Carmen Electra) and eight high-achieving children.
Tom feels diminished by Jimmy, though their children get along very well, especially two budding romances between the 8th graders and the college-age children. Various fracases and pratfalls later (not once, but twice a guy in a wheelchair who has no other connection to the story falls into the water), the two families square off in a pentathelon of camp contests, a battle of egg-toss, three-legged race, volleyball. Everyone learns again the importance of family. Martin even gets a chance to shed a tear about how wonderful it all is to love your family so very, very much.
I’m still angry that these films appropriate the title of two of the best books for children ever written and then give us something that has no relationship whatsoever to the books or the astonishing, hilarious, and touching real-life story they portrayed about “motion study” pioneers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their twelve children.
Put that to one side, and it’s just a super-sized “Brady Bunch” episode with a lot of dumb-daddy pratfalls and some crude humor (including two completely inappropriate anti-gay jokes). Hillary Duff, now that she’s lost the babyfat that gave her face some sweetness, just looks horsey in a thankless part.
What it does have going for it is a trophy wife (Electra) who is not a stereotype. She is generous and tells her husband when he is behaving badly. Martin and Hunt have an easy chemistry, and one of the kids, Alyson Stoner, is a stand-out who makes a real impression, a genuine achievement amid all the crowd and noise. But the movie’s fundamental superficiality is clear in the absence of any notion of what family really is. There’s some sloppy sentimentality, but not a single moment of genuine parenting — no instruction, guidance (even when a child shoplifts, which is treated as evidence of insecurity not as theft), support, generosity, or even listening. The movie’s idea of what it means to be a parent is not much more than affectionate proximity. What’s cheap here is the sentiment.
Parents should know that the movie has some crude language and jokes, including potty humor, a hit in the crotch, and homophobic references. One girl calls her young sister “butch” because she doesn’t like make-up and it is supposed to be funny that when a man puts his arm around another man’s shoulders, people think they are gay. Character drink (including drinking to make themselves feel better). Misbehavior is endorsed (even encouraged) or overlooked, including shoplifting and destructive pranks.
Families who see this movie should talk about what the best — and worst — parts of having such a large family would be. Why did Tom care so much about what Jimmy thought of him? Why did Jimmy want Tom to care so much? Families should also talk about how they feel as the children grow up and what families do to stay close to each other.