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Keeping Up with the Steins

Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Scott Marshall
Starring: Jeremy Piven, Garry Marshall, Daryl Sabara, Jami Gertz, Larry Miller, Daryl Hannah, Doris Roberts, Cheryl Hines, Richard Benjamin, Neil Diamond
Released by: Miramax Films

In Short: "Bigger and better" is the family mantra for a boy's Bar Mitzvah, as two families attempt to one-up each other in this sporadically funny satire.

Bar Mitzvah Blues
A Family Affair in Front of and Behind the Camera
By Jenny Peters

If sharp satire with an underlying theme of family first is your idea of fun filmmaking, then “Keeping Up with the Steins” is your kind of movie. A coming-of-age comedy set in the ultra-rich, ultra-shallow wealthy neighborhood of Brentwood, Calif., the movie follows the trials and tribulations of Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara, in a well-cast performance), a powerful Hollywood agent's 13-year-old son who is about to experience his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage into manhood.

Problem is, Benjamin’s friend Zachary Stein (and son of his dad’s arch rival) has just had the Bar Mitzvah to end all Bar Mitzvahs — a $500,000 extravaganza that puts Ben’s dad Adam (Jeremy Piven) into a frenzied overdrive of one-upmanship competition. Add in the arrival of Benjamin’s long-lost hippie grandfather (Garry Marshall), who is estranged from his son and who hasn’t seen his family in decades, and the Fiedler family is sent into a tizzy as the Bar Mitzvah approaches.

“Keeping Up with the Steins” is not only a family affair in its story, but in its making as well. First-time director Scott Marshall just happens to be Garry Marshall’s son. While he gets a charming performance out of his father, Marshall’s touch with light comedy is not quite up to that of his famous dad’s directing style. There are certainly some very funny moments in the movie, but it also slips at times. Jokes fall flat, and perhaps just a bit too much cornpone is thrown in, as the grandfather-father-son relationships are shaken up, broken down and reformed.

The movie is definitely clever when it skewers the insane escalation that happens when parents with too much money try to outdo what others have done. As the plot unfolds, though, the story’s pacing drags in sections, with little or no laughs and too much predictable action. Actually, it’s the sort of film that is actually more suited for the small screen than the movie theater. It’s enjoyable to watch, but it would be nice to have a remote in hand to fast forward through the slow parts and get on to the funny stuff.

(Updated 05/12/06)

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