2006-06-09 / Columnists


'Keeping Up With The Steins' - Battling Bar Mitzvahs
By Robert Snyder

"Keeping Up With the Steins" starts as a scathing satire about the danger of competitive conspicuous consumption sabotaging a sacred religious rite of passage. However, the heart beating solidly throughout the comedy softens the biting edge until we're left with a feel-good family film.

And the heart is in the person of Garry Marshall, the famed producer-director ("Pretty Woman"), whose son Scott cuts his first-time directing chops with "Steins."The elder Marshall steals the film as the aging hippie grandfather, Irwin, of Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara from "Spy Kids"), the 13-year-old Brentwood, California boy in the middle of an intense battle of bar mitzvahs.

Benjamin's father, Adam (Jeremy Piven), is a high-powered Hollywood agent, who has just been subjected to the super bar mitzvah for the son, Zachary (Carter Jenkins), of his former partner, Arnie Stein (Larry Miller). It's the ultimate in ostentatious opulence. A "Titanic" theme has Zachary launch his manhood on a Cunard liner as he stands on a makeshift bow breaking through plastic icebergs. A Kate Winslet lookalike hugs him, while he shouts, "I'm the king of the Torah."

Dad Fiedler must do one bigger. But is it better?Reluctant Benjamin is pressured into picking a baseball theme, which translates into renting Dodger stadium where Neil Diamond will sing the National Anthem. Confused and desperate, he is without a clue to the meaning of the Hebrew words he must read from the Torah. The rabbi (Richard Benjamin) is most concerned with hawking his new book, "The Passion of the Jews."

To throw a monkey wrench into the works, Benjamin secretly contacts Grandpa Irwin, very much against the wishes of his dad. Adam has never forgiven Irwin for abandoning his mother (Doris Roberts) 26 years ago. Irwin arrives from a Native American reservation with girlfriend Sandy Sacred Feather (Daryl Hannah) and a lifetime of wisdom. He also brings a much-needed sense of humor to the overflowing river of indulgence.

The elder Marshall is a hoot. He swims in the Fielder pool naked with Sandy. He blasts nose-picking motorists with his PA-equipped camper. Still, "Steins" slides into sitcom sentimentality, never attaining the acidity of the opening scene. Only Arnie remains unrepentant to the end (when Diamond begins "Hava Nagila," he says, "I never liked that song"). Otherwise, the tone of the film goes from sour to sweet.

If you're looking for a toothless comedy with a revelatory Gary Marshall and a warm soul, "Keeping Up with the Steins" may be your cup of (matzo ball) soup.

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