'Dozen 2' even cheaper than the first one

December is the time of year when Hollywood takes everything to extremes. You get an extremely high number of films featuring extreme drama ("Brokeback Mountain"), extreme action ("King Kong") and - to balance everything out - extreme silliness.

But if downbeat or in-your-face doesn't rev your engine, you can opt for the mindless family fare of "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," the pointless, grating sequel to the equally pointless and grating 2003 remake.

In an effort to exceed the banality bar recently set by "Yours, Mine & Ours," "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" takes the original 12 Baker children and adds eight from their neighbors, the Murtaughs. For the same amount of money, you get not 18 but 20 kids - more bang for your entertainment dollar!

Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) Baker, sensing that their nest is starting to empty out, arrange for one more group trip to Lake Winnetka in Wisconsin to solidify their family ties. Tom is so stoked he can hardly contain himself; he has big plans in store for everyone. But then, he's blindsided by Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), his longtime rival. Jimmy owns most of the lakeside property, including a sprawling mansion across the way from the Bakers' ramshackle rental.

It doesn't take long for the Baker kids to determine that the grass really is greener on the other side of the lake. Soon, they're spending every waking moment living the high life. For Tom, losing his three eldest children to adulthood is one thing; having the younger ones dump him for upscale recreational toys is another. Tom boils over with envy, which reignites his and Jimmy's age-old grudge match.

In addition to recycling all of the largely unfunny jokes from the first film, the movie offends in a way most viewers will either miss or ignore because of the mile-a-minute, light-hearted delivery. Tom and Jimmy both suffer from "Hockey Dad/Soccer Mom" syndrome - the zealous, overbearing and tunnel-vision approach to life of using one's own offspring to achieve "victory" and save face.

Tom is jealous of Jimmy's fortune and years of victories at camp events. His spite is so strong, he even sabotages the budding romances that two of his children have with two of Jimmy's kids. He alienates all but two of his kids with his petty antics and even enlists them to do his dirty work.

This is not the benign Martin of the "Father of the Bride" films, but rather an obnoxious demon daddy who knows no bounds and hides his anger behind a smiling mask of "good intentions." Jimmy is no better. He feels hounding his kids into overachievement or buying them off with expensive gadgets equates to good parenting. Even his dim-bulb trophy wife (Carmen Electra) senses it and calls him on it.

Filmmakers better start realizing movies such as this are far removed from the average middle American mind set and are sending the wrong message. The hijinks of the two dads in this movie aren't wacky and comical, they're embarrassing and loathsome. (Fox)