Antics! Boy, are there a lot of them in Cheaper By The Dozen 2! Fireworks shoot off unexpectedly. One character keeps referring to a fancy set of china given to him by the King Of Thailand and—wouldn't you know it?—the china gets smashed. There's even a wacky pack-rat that steals wallets, shirts, and keychains. Antics! Oh, how the kids jump around, and boy, does Steve Martin know how to take a fall. Whether he's kneeboarding or walking on a rotting dock, when he falls down, he falls down good. It's all so adorable and squeaky-clean that it should be hard for anyone who isn't under 10 or wearing a holiday-themed sweater to resist fleeing in terror. In its absolute commitment to inoffensive, fun-for-the-whole-family entertainment, it's as extreme in its own way as hardcore pornography.
Thick with characters and thin on plot, Cheaper By The Dozen 2 revisits the overstuffed clan led by Martin and Bonnie Hunt as they take a Labor Day trip to a Wisconsin lake. Once a quaint, middle-class getaway, it's gone upscale in the years since the family's last trip, in part thanks to Eugene Levy, a father of eight who likes to flaunt his new wealth as much as he enjoys showing off trophy bride Carmen Electra. (In spite of the rumors, the two aren't dating in real life.) Reviving a longstanding rivalry that somehow went unmentioned in the first Cheaper By The Dozen movie, Martin and Levy engage in a game of one-upmanship that eventually gets so out of control that only a daylong contest of egg-tossing, three-legged-races, and canoeing can solve it.
But there's drama within the drama. Presumably fulfilling a contractual obligation, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, and Hilary Duff return as three of Martin and Hunt's kids. Pregnant, wanting to open a garage, and dying to leave for one of those oh-so-common post-high-school internships at Allure magazine, respectively, each of the three challenges Martin to let go a little bit… because part of being a parent is learning to let go. That's the film's frequently mentioned theme, but it's really just a fig leaf for a lot of dumb pratfalls and montage sequences set to pop songs too good for the movie. Director Adam Shankman and screenwriter Sam Harper do deserve credit for one thing: They wait 80 minutes before bringing out the first nutsack-injury gag. Now that's restraint.