[box cover]

Keeping Up With the Steins

Keeping Up With the Steins' problems begin (and, sadly, come nowhere close to ending) with its title. Despite what it implies — an implication that was reinforced by the theatrical ad campaign — the Steins really don't have much to do with the storyline at all. This is no War of the Roses-like battle for one-upsmanship between two families competing to throw the best bar mitzvah. Rather, it's a trite, boring comedy about a kid trying to make peace between his estranged father and grandfather. Daryl Sabara (of Spy Kids fame) stars as Benjamin Fiedler, whose rite-of-manhood plans spin out of control after his competitive agent dad, Adam (Jeremy Piven, basically playing a PG-rated version of his character on "Entourage") , and perky mom, Joanne (Jami Gertz), decide to throw the mother of all parties. (They're inspired by the titular Steins' ridiculously over-the-top Titanic-themed bash, but that's pretty much where the other family's influence ends.) Benjamin — who's too frightened/passive to speak up and tell his parents how he feels about the whole thing — schemes to toss a hopefully fatal wrench in the plans by inviting Adam's estranged father, Irwin (director Scott Marshall's dad Garry), to arrive two weeks early. He's counting on the men's antagonism to bring the party plans to screeching halt. No such luck. Adam and Irwin go at it, all right, but nothing can stop the runaway train that is Benjamin's bar mitzvah… except Benjamin. That's the movie's Big Message in a nutshell: Learning to be a man is about a lot more than showing off to your friends. It's hardly subtle, but neither is anything else about Keeping Up With the Steins. Which is a pity, because somewhere buried deep beneath all of the predictable dialogue ("The day I become a man, you're not supposed to act like children," Benjamin yells at his bickering dad and grandfather at one point) and one-note characters is a nice idea about an insecure kid bonding with his colorful grandfather (Irwin's a laid-back hippie type — all the better to contrast him with uptight Adam, of course). Sabara and Marshall's scenes are the movie's best, adding a dash of realism to what is otherwise a paint-by-numbers story. Irwin's gentle, comfortable relationship with his ex-wife, Rose (Doris Roberts), is another highlight, enough to make you wish the movie had focused more on them and less on the other Fiedlers — not to mention the Steins. Buena Vista/Miramax brings the movie to DVD in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (a Spanish track is available, as are French and Spanish subtitles and English closed captions). Extras include a brief "making-of" featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, and two full-length commentary tracks, one pairing Scott Marshall with writer/producer Mark Zakarin and the other (which ends up sounding like two guys narrating a home movie) featuring the director and his dad. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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