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.