Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Opens Weds., Dec. 21, at Metro and others.

How can you suffer from Empty Nest Syndrome when you have 12 kids? That’s one of the many less-than- provocative parenting questions raised in this sequel to 2003’s Cheaper, itself a remake of a 1950 film. When we rejoin the outsized Baker clan, they’re gathering for the high-school graduation of Lorraine (Hilary Duff, too skinny and rouged, and frankly kind of gargoylish). As parents Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) pore over Lorraine’s baby pictures, they have a (tremendously contrived) epiphany: Why not drag the entire pack back to idyllic Lake Winnetka for one . . . more . . . family . . . vacation? Eldest daughter Nora (Piper Perabo) is married and preggers; eldest son Charlie (Tom Welling) is working in a Chicago garage (surely just a ruse to get him all sweaty and axle-greasy for his Smallville admirers); and Lorraine has a New York internship—but hey, what the hell, why not?

You can probably fill in the rest: The cabin is rickety, there’s a bothersome rat, pratfalls abound, Lorraine’s suitcase is the size of a Buick, etc. By the time the Bakers are going head-to-head with the Murtaugh family (led by Carmen Elektra’s cleavage and a sadly unfunny Eugene Levy) for the Lake Winnetka Cup, we’re getting force-fed mawkish, unhelpful parenting lessons (e.g., the best child rearing is kooky and arbitrary and has nothing whatsoever to do with discipline). Levy and Martin are supposed to be having some kind of macho pissing contest, but they’re not exactly paragons of traditional masculinity. Welling is wooden as a barn door, Perabo barely gets a word in, and most of the younger kids from both broods range from cloying to annoying.

The sweetest part of the movie, the only part that has any emotional resonance at all, is the transformation of 12-year-old Sarah Baker (Alyson Stoner) from tomboy to femme. (Hellooo, puberty!) When she chooses Lorraine as her makeup consultant, though, you have to wonder whether she’ll emerge with bolts protruding from her neck. (PG)