Joining a long line of less-than-memorable sequels based on movies that shouldn’t have made as much money as they did the first time around, “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” opened last weekend just in time to entice kiddies on Christmas break. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return to slapstick their way through parenting 12 kids, as the family takes one final family vacation together. At their cabin on Lake Winnetka, overly-competitive dad, Tom, starts a rivalry with the dad of another family, the Murtaughs. Will Tom’s family quit squabbling long enough to pull together to beat those nasty Murtaughs? Will they learn to better appreciate each other along the way?

Oh, and then there’s the biggest question of all: Why should anyone watching this movie care? “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” is mind-numbing entertainment at best, but sadly I predict it will do reasonably well at the box office in spite of numerous negative reviews. Why? Because the few positive reviews it is receiving are coming from conservative Christian organizations with large subscriber bases that tout the movie for its “family friendly” qualities–i.e. there may be no storyline, or decent acting or anything else to commend the film, but hey, it’s also completely inoffensive to our easily offended sensibilities.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I am not a parent, I understand the desire of parents to be able to take their children to a movie without worrying about lots of profanity or gratuitous sex or other objectionable content. But I think this movie presents a strong case in point for making a cultural paradigm shift in how a “family friendly” movie is defined. Does this family even remotely resemble any family I have ever met? No. Are they dealing with any of the difficult issues a real family would be dealing with? Not a chance.

And what message are groups like Focus on the Family sending when they give praise to this movie in the same breath as the excellently-crafted “Chronicles of Narnia,” while completely panning other family dramas such as–and I am going back a couple of years, I admit–the brilliant, Oscar-nominated “In America”? And why aren’t they getting the word out about recent inspirational indie hits, such as “Mad Hot Ballroom,” which are completely appropriate for the whole family? It’s time for the church community, which so vehemently wants to have a say in Hollywood, to expect more than “Cheaper” family entertainment at the theater–unless you are just counting the days until you can go see “Cheaper by the Dozen 3” at a cineplex near you.

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