A clever, family-friendly premise.
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
A clever, family-friendly premise.
A slew of jokes that failed to strike my funny bone.
Take a look at your multiplex marquee. Sometimes the choices in mainstream cinema are overwhelming. Do you attend the Michael Bay action project, or do you risk the high-budget poop jokes in the latest Scary Movie sequel? Every now and then it is nice to take a breather and enjoy a film that prides itself on the simpler things in life. Generally this is where independent comedies come in. Rarely do comedies strive to be sweet and sound while delivering a moral message about togetherness in the end. This is precisely what the recent film Keeping Up with the Steins tries to do. Unfortunately its thick coating of sugary sap is a tad overwhelming.

Keeping Up with the Steins takes a stab at a topic discussed in film various times: bar mitzvahs. While they are occasionally featured as background occurrences in films to accentuate the Jewishness of characters, the process and frustration of prepararing one is rarely seen in depth. The premise itself is a rather clever one and attracted me before seeing it. Jewish Hollywood agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven, who seems to be typecast now as agents) excitedly awaits the bar mitzvah celebration of his young son Ben (Daryl Sabara). However, that anticipation is immediately crushed by the forces of materialism and competition. After seeing that his equally wealthy neighbor (Larry Miller) has performed a Titanic-themed bar mitzvah of the year for his son, Adam sees past family values, and sets his sights on one-upping his opponent.

To make matters more complicated, young Ben wishes only to bond with his family and to gain a full understanding of his upbringing and religion. He dispatches the assistance of his long-lost grandfather Irwin (Garry Marshall) to mend the wounds in his broken family. With his hippie love interest in tow (Daryl Hannah), Irwin arrives on the scene only to give Adam further ulcers, yet form a relationship with his grandson. The film's main question: Will Adam overcome materialism to embrace family values and togetherness?

The intentions of Keeping Up with the Steins are sweet, and I could detect this before seeing it in the theater. Every once in a blue moon, something sappy such as this needs to compensate for the cancellation of Full House. While keeping my mind open to its forced sentimentality, Steins is touching at times, but tries too hard to be quirky. Most of these eccentricities come from beloved character actor Garry Marshall. The character of Irwin is clearly intended to hold this film up with his over-the-top performance and youth-charged mentality. His presence is so flamboyant, that one expects perfection from his jokes. Unfortunately, they fall awkwardly flat.

On a more impressive note, some performers stay abnormally restrained. Doris Roberts silences her overbearing persona from Everybody Loves Raymond to play a sensibly calm grandmother, and Jeremy Piven, while playing an agent, loses his smugness to embrace paternal responsibility. If you are looking for the real laughs, keep your eyes peeled for Richard Benjamin in a brief role as the family's media-saturated rabbi.

This small-scale picture contains a whopping two commentary tracks. The first is with director Scott Marshall and his father/actor Garry Marshall. Scott is surprisingly the more talkative of the pair as he identifies trivial facts about the production, while father Garry speaks in a more relaxed tone. He throws in an occasional Jewish joke that reflects the blandness of his jokes in the film. The second track features Scott Marshall with writer Mark Zakarin. If one where to choose one track to listen to, this would be the one. Marshall repeats much of the same things he says in the track with his father, but writer Zakarin is more willing to complement Marshall's comments with production facts.

Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary)

Like most deleted scenes tend to be, these are pretty insignificant to the film. Obviously these were cut because they serve little purpose in the plot. Keep moving past this one.

Making-Of Featurette

There is not much to expect from this feature except cuteness. When you are dealing with a simple and sweet comedy, the topics of conversation are somewhat limited. Basically the directors and actors talk about their characters, and how much they enjoyed working with everyone. This is very so-so, but fans of the film might dig it.
Widescreen (1.85:1) The transfer of the film from screen to DVD looks unblemished. As far as direction goes, it is very basic. Scott Marshall does not strive for slick camera movements, but he captures the colorful materialism of Brentwood, California quite well.
5.1 Dolby Surround. The quality of sound is clean here. There is probably no need to enjoy this film in surround sound except for a few songs on the soundtrack.
Standard DVD keep case. The front cover cuts and pastes elements from the original poster art work. Pivotal cast members such as Piven and Marshall are pictured on the cover while characters from the theatrical poster are removed.
Keeping Up with the Steins addresses the film industry's need for family-friendly films that are not trying to be the excessive spectacle of the year. As much as I wanted to admire this comedy, it just didn't strike the right cords. Thanks to excessive jokes that do not deliver the right punch, Steins is a tad awkward at times.

However, this is not my way of saying to avoid this film at all costs. My fianc&#233e, who accompanied me in seeing this film, loved every minute of it, and I am sure it works for many non-nit-picky movie fans who are unlike cinema snobs such as myself. Go ahead and give this a rental!

Questions? Comments? Just want to talk movies? Drop me a line at dodd@movieweb.com

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