I’m glad I’m not Jewish. “Keeping Up With the Steins” would make me embarrassed to be. It’s bad enough the lousy Christian films I have to put up with.
Scott Marshall is the son of director/actor Garry Marshall, which probably explains how he was able to direct a film this lousy, and how he was able to get Garry Marshall to appear in it. Working from a sub-sitcom-level script by Mark Zakarin, the younger Marshall employs cliche after stereotype after weak punchline in telling the story of a Jewish family intent on making their bar mitzvah party more extravagant then their neighbors’, and darned if he doesn’t manage to make a film that’s almost as bad as one of his dad’s.
The Fiedlers are the Jews in question, an upscale L.A. family whose son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) is about to turn 13. Benjamin’s dad, Adam (Jeremy Piven, in a watered-down version of his “Entourage” character), is a talent agent with a long-standing rivalry with Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), whose son Zachary (Carter Jenkins) just had a lavish bar mitzvah party on a cruise ship.
Apparently, it’s common within Jewish culture for families to try to outdo each other on the bar mitzvah party. (At least that’s the movie’s implication. If it’s not true, then the film’s very PREMISE is unfunny, in addition to all of its jokes.) Benjamin is unenthusiastic, but his parents and their event planner (Cheryl Hines) are gunning to create THE Jewish social event of the season.
In a bit of logic that only happens in movies, Benjamin invites his dad’s long-estranged father Irwin (Garry Marshall), who walked out on the family 26 years ago, to the bar mitzvah. He gives Grandpa the wrong date, too, causing him to show up two weeks early. The reasoning? He hopes Dad will be so flustered by Grandpa’s arrival that he’ll freak out and cancel the elaborate party plans.
What the hell?? is right. It makes no more sense in the movie than it does on paper, but there you go. Grandpa shows up with his young, free-spirited girlfriend (Daryl Hannah) and is soon cavorting nakedly in the Fiedlers’ backyard swimming pool. (SCOTT MARSHALL: Hey, Dad, will you be in my movie? GARRY: Sure, son. SCOTT: Oh, and will you also do a nude scene? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?)
The one-dimensionality of these characters is stunning. You have Catskills Grandpa, doing shtick and crackin’ bad jokes like he’s in vaudeville. Then there’s Bitter, Petulant Grown-Up Son, angry that his father has waltzed back into his life, yet unwilling to discuss it, listen to reason, or in any other way behave like an adult. Grandma (Doris Roberts), who has forgiven Irwin for leaving her, is Jewish Grandmother, complete with nagging, kibitzing, butting in, and stealing butter packets from restaurants. The alleged protagonist, Benjamin, is a lump who mopes around with concerns about not understanding the true meaning of the bar mitzvah, who rarely acts for himself but instead is a mute, lumpy witness to the shenanigans that surround him.
Oddly, Adam complains about his father’s hoary old jokes at least twice, yet the groaners Grandpa perpetrates are no worse than anyone else’s. Adam himself, while on the phone trying to book entertainment for the party, says: “How much for 50 Cent? Really? OK, how much for 17 Cent?” Honestly, that’s the movie’s idea of a funny line. It gets no funnier than that. This film couldn’t be more meshugga if it tried.
D (1 hr., 39 min.; )