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Keeping Up with the Steins

Keeping Up with the Steins successfully injects a Jewish twist into an otherwise textbook family-film premise: If life gives you stale matzo, you make matzo balls. But it also adds up to a little more schmaltz.


In Brentwood, California, the bar mitzvahs never stop, and each one must outdo its predecessor in terms of extravagance. After the Stein affair, which included a big-budget Titanic theme, the Fiedlers scramble to make Benjamin (Daryl Sabara)"s even better. Tentatively scheduled is a party at Dodger Stadium featuring Neil Diamond, but Benjamin is more stressed over the long-standing feud between his dad, Adam (Jeremy Piven), and his grandpa, Irwin (Garry Marshall), than the details of party. In hopes of speeding the reconciliation along, Benjamin secretly invites Irwin to the house so the two men can iron out their differences. Gramps arrives at the Fiedler residence with his much younger hippie girlfriend, Sacred Feather (Daryl Hannah), and immediately shakes things up. He ends up teaching his grandson about becoming a man, but Adam has a whole different beef with his old man, and beef is not kosher.


Piven"s pre-Entourage roles could"ve been a lot worse than this smallish fare--at least he snagged the meatiest role. But while he strikes a nice balance between Type A personality and family man, it"d be neat to see him not play virtually the same exact role he"s made famous on TV--the high-strung, mostly vain entertainment agent. Hollywood vet Marshall (best known for directing Pretty Woman), meanwhile, steals scenes and warms hearts as the misunderstood provider of wisdom, but be forewarned: He struts around in his birthday suit and his date of birth was Nov. 13, 1934! The supporting Fiedlers also do a nice job of not kvetching too much during the family crises: Jami Gertz, in true Jewish-mother form, tries to keep everyone happy; Sabara (Spy Kids) shows promise as a leading boy-to-man; and Doris Roberts stars as the divorcee in-law who"s always in the way. Cheryl Hines, Larry Miller and Adam Goldberg also make funny appearances.


Unfolding behind the camera was a different kind of family reunion: Garry Marshall teams up with his son Scott Marshall, the first time the younger Marshall has directed the elder--or anyone, for that matter, since this is his feature directorial debut. Sure enough, it"s like father, like son with Steins. Scott plays to the audience his father"s been winning over for years, and he inserts this feel-too-good tale right into a template some would claim his father pioneered. Some gags totally miss and stereotypical jokes sometimes seem to be rather religion-exclusive (i.e. Doris Roberts" character stealthily slipping restaurant butter into her purse), but all in all, decent fun can be had by everyone. And although the film"s second half veers toward predictability (and a too-preachy "meaning of the bar mitzvah" bit), Marshall has learned from the best how to elicit the full range of feel-good emotions.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.