The planning and celebration of a bar mitzvah has wonderful comic potential. Family dysfunctions. Awkward pre-teen kids. All the meshuga ethnic eccentricities. What a shame to miss the mark on nearly all of it. The younger Marshall goes keeps it saccharine-light, and ends up with a stiff would-be comedy filled with talented stars and very few laughs.
Benji Fiedler (Spy Kids' Daryl Sabara) is preparing for the big day when, according to Jewish law, he will become a man. His adoring parents, played by Jeremy Piven and Jami Gertz with only one emotional note each, want to shoot the moon in order to outdo the bar mitzvah bash thrown by the annoying Steins (led by the always smug Larry Miller), which took place on a cruise ship, included a mock sinking of the Titanic, and boasted a ridiculous level of tacky opulence.
So while the Fiedlers work on a Dodger Stadium party with a dumb, grinning planner -- Cheryl Hines, wasting her time and ours -- Ben has another idea: He sneakily invites his estranged grandfather (Marshall), a selfish soul who abandoned his family decades earlier.
Once the familial connections are established, Scott Marshall, working from an amateurish script by The L Word writer Mark Zakarin, rotates among all the typical scenarios including A Life Lesson from Grandpa, A Hateful Son's Scorn, and A Change of Heart for Ben. If this were a well-executed family movie, you'd forgive the predictability. But the poor rhythm makes it all feel amazingly forced, and the actors, not a bad one in the bunch, all look like they're going through the motions.
At the very least, the matching of Piven and Marshall should have had some zest, some snap. Instead their conflict is as soft as a matzo ball, with both actors caught in immovable situations: Marshall lazily upholds his ponytail personality with bad jokes and a wave of the hand; worse, Piven plays a competitive Hollywood agent (thanks Entourage!) who does a lot of lip-pursing and anger-bottling. Piven is a fun, kinetic actor that's worlds better than this stuff.
And how about this for creativity? When three of the young guys down some alcohol with the parents away, they break into an old Fast Times at Ridgemont High gag when said parents return ("First, he's gonna crap! Then he's gonna kill us!"). And the entrée for family dinner? Brisket. Do you non-Jews (like both Marshalls, by the way) think L.A. Jews only eat deli food when cooking for family? Why not break out the Manischewitz and toss in a couple of "oy vey"s?
Even the technical execution is subpar. Dinnertime cutaways of an unhappy Piven resemble those classic, empty-looking reaction shots in The Brady Bunch. Like that show, Keeping Up with the Steins is aimed at families, but ultimately appeals only to younger kids. And with the level of talent participating on the screen, that'll make you all verklempt.
The DVD includes commentary track and deleted scenes, plus a making-of featurette.
You can almost smell the comedy.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 28th December 2006
Box Office USA: $4.3M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 52
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Scott Marshall
Producer: A.D. Oppenheim, David Scharf, Mark Zakarin
Screenwriter: Mark Zakarin
Starring: Daryl Sabara as Benjamin Fiedler, Jami Gertz as Joanne Fiedler, Jeremy Piven as Adam Fiedler, Cheryl Hines as Casey Nudelman, Carter Jenkins as Zachary Stein, Sandra Taylor as Raylene Stein, Larry Miller as Arnie Stein, Doris Roberts as Rose Fiedler, Garry Marshall as Irwin Fiedler, Daryl Hannah as Sandy / Sacred
Also starring: Richard Benjamin
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