Unfunny ‘Steins’ is one-note riff on growing up Jewish - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Unfunny ‘Steins’ is one-note riff on growing up Jewish

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Posted: Friday, May 26, 2006 6:56 am | Updated: 4:13 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If the old dictum “write what you know” could be paraphrased for filmmakers and applied to “Keeping Up With the Steins,” it seems to tell us that director Scott Marshall knows a lot about being rich, Jewish and bitterly resentful of one’s father.

That Marshall is the son of big-shot filmmaker Garry Marshall (“Beaches”) all but clinches the first two criteria and lends the third a dose of celebrity intrigue.

Unfortunately, the director’s personal relationship with the material — real or imagined — has little kosher effect on “Keeping Up With the Steins,” a tedious coming-of-age comedy that could well do for bar mitzvahs what E. coli did for Jumbo Jacks.

Harsh, but true. Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”) is handed a dog of a role as Adam Fiedler, an anxietyprone Hollywood talent agent obsessed with giving his son, Benjamin (Daryl Sabara from “Spy Kids,” exuding silent pubescent angst), a bar mitzvah he’ll never forget. More to the point, Adam is determined to one-up Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), an excolleague married to a platinum blond Texas trophy wife who pronounces “nachas” — a Hebrew word for pride — as “nachos.”

The Stein bar mitzvah was a gaudy, “Titanic”-themed affair thrown on a cruise ship, complete with a Kate Winslet impersonator. With minimal input from Benjamin or wife Joanne (Jami Gertz, wearing what appear to be the remnants of her mid-’80s “Square Pegs” wardrobe), Adam devises a spectacle even more grotesque: A baseball-themed bash at Dodger Stadium, with Neil Diamond doing the music. It’s all a status game, you see — a point driven home with clumsy, seldom-funny exuberance by screenwriter Mark Zakarin.

Benjamin twiddles his thumbs in Hebrew school and wonders what faith has to do with anything, but the child is largely a passive figure in Zakarin’s story, an observer of his father’s meltdown. We understand that Adam’s irrational fixations are at least partly rooted in his own deprived childhood and a father, played by — guess who? — Garry Marshall, who abandoned him. When, at Benjamin’s invitation, the contrite old man shows up on Adam’s doorstep in Brentwood with a much-younger hippie girlfriend (Daryl Hannah) in tow, the usual kvetching and hard-fought reconciliation ensues.

Through it all, director Marshall strums the same notes, over and over again, to nerve-fraying effect. Adam bawling out his party planner. Adam bristling at the old man. If Piven earned a nickel for every time Marshall cut away to him for a nice eyerolling shot, I’m fairly certain his pay would eclipse that of Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible III.”

Marshall, the director, gets better mileage out of his father, whose gnarled, nononsense performance as the eldest Fiedler shows us what a paternal lending hand is all about.

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