Co-starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo in parts they should have run from like the bird flu, this chaotic mess also features 18 overwrought children between the ages of 4 and 17 -- all crammed into one huge, ramshackle 20-room lighthouse on the Connecticut shore, all whining and screaming at each other, chomping on the scenery, and throwing buckets of paint around the place. Every last bad actor among them is a candidate for euthanasia -- or at least a one-way ticket back to the school play.
Screenwriters Ron Burch and David Kidd, who could be indicted on multiple charges, have ostensibly based their "work" on the far funnier 1968 film of the same name with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, whose immortal souls we shall leave mostly undisturbed here. The current version's plot, beaten to a pulp, concerns two reunited high school honeys who, 30 years after they went to the prom together, fall into a second-chance romance and an ill-considered insta-marriage. Conveniently, they're both recently widowed. Not so conveniently, they already have between them enough kids to field two baseball teams -- and that means plenty o' trouble in the step-sibling rivalry department when everyone's suddenly thrown together. The gush of infantile insults hurled here makes the nattering dialogue of The Brady Bunch -- whose combined offspring numbered just six -- seem like Samuel Beckett in one of his quieter moods.
Poor Quaid. Some actors are lucky enough to get caught in the car with a prostitute. For the moment, this one's mired in a bit of nightmarish miscasting, in which he's asked to play a stern (but still lovable) Coast Guard admiral, Frank Beardsley, who orders his eight children around like able seamen. "Listen up!" he shouts, none too convincingly. "As you were!" he bellows. He has one beleaguered daughter play reveille to the household at 6 a.m. on her squawky tenor sax, and we never believe for a minute that he'd really do such a thing. Russo fares no better. As Helen North, a supposedly free-spirited clothing designer who has 10 kids (four biological ones and a six-pack of politically correct, ethnically diverse adoptees), she affects a kind of suburban new-age dreaminess -- the cool mom as indulgent poet -- that's completely phony. With her perfectly coiffed auburn tresses and sleek cocktail dresses, Russo comes off exactly as what she is -- a 51-year-old ex-fashion model who would still look great on the runway. As for the remainder of this "cast," we shall refrain from naming any of the children or specifying any of their individual characteristics, lest it lead to future work for them in the dramatic arts. Best for all concerned that someone throw a blanket over this whole awful brood. Including the dog. And the cat. And the terminally cute pet pig, who joins the humans at the breakfast table, even though he's the size of Rhode Island.
While director Raja Gosnell (whose oeuvre includes Scooby Doo and its even more unfortunate sequel) force-feeds us great gobs of frantic goodwill, the militarily disciplined Beardsley kids and the hippie-blissful North kids come up with a surefire joint plan to keep the two groups separate: They sabotage their parents' brand-new marriage. That's not a bad idea, as far as it goes -- anything to preclude these two from any further breeding. But even the dull-witted nine-year-olds in the house can figure out what happens next. Despite themselves, the two sets of children give up bickering for bonding, and 75 minutes into the thing, everyone but Frank and Helen is ready for the inevitable We Are Fami-Lee moment. Gosnell and his writers drop it on us like a huge lump of sweet stickum, and then everyone gets to go home. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mr. Fonda and Ms. Ball might be spinning in their graves: If nothing else, their original Yours, Mine & Ours had sharp writing, good star chemistry, and the kind of happy bewilderment that gives family comedies fizz. Watching the remake, you might feel like poisoning the entire gang's corn flakes, but quick.