- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

First-time director Scott Marshall is as big a mensch as his famous father. Garry Marshall is the brains behind such bland, benevolent sitcoms as “Mork & Mindy” and “Happy Days” as well as harmless features such as “Runaway Bride.”

His son is carrying on the family tradition, embracing warm, sappy humor as seen through an ethnic viewfinder.

“Keeping Up With the Steins” follows two Jewish families fighting to out-bar-mitzvah the other. Or at least that’s what the trailer tells us.

The story actually involves a reunion between estranged father and son, with the elder Marshall stepping out from behind the camera to play the former.

It’s either fitting that Garry Marshall steals his son’s movie or an early Father’s Day present.

Of course, with the watered-down humor and awkward pacing of “Steins,” the theft is little more than a misdemeanor.

“Keeping Up With the Steins” begins with a humorous bar mitzvah set piece aboard a cruise ship. Young Zach Stein’s parents have turned their son’s transformative day into a “Titanic”-themed extravaganza right down to faux mermaids and icebergs.

The affair steams Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven), a Hollywood agent whose son is about to celebrate his own bar mitzvah. Not to be outdone, Adam begins plotting the bar mitzvah to end all bar mitzvahs, to be held in Dodgers Stadium, just to stick it to Zach’s parents.

But young Ben Fiedler doesn’t want a big shindig. Heck, he’d rather skip the event entirely just to avoid reciting difficult Hebrew passages in public.

Adam’s quest gets even more complicated when Ben invites his long-lost grandfather to the event. Irwin Fiedler left young Adam and his mother (Doris Roberts) decades ago and recently has found love with a hippie woman (Daryl Hannah) young enough to be his daughter.

Everyone seems willing to forgive Irwin’s transgressions except Adam, who can’t believe his father genuinely regrets his parental failings.

Will father and son patch up their differences in time for Ben’s big day? Can Ben learn enough about his faith to appreciate his transition into adulthood?

And the biggest question: How can so many crackerjack comic elements be assembled with such a paucity of belly laughs?

Let’s start with Mark Zakarin’s script, which doesn’t skimp on sentimentality — or feeble punch lines.

Mr. Piven should feel equal guilt for his appearance here. The actor is a comic marvel as Ari the agent on HBO’s “Entourage,” but playing another dyspeptic agent doesn’t bode well for his career choices.

Advance buzz positioned “Steins” as the next “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” an ethnic comedy that shouldered past demographic barriers. However, “Greek,” while sappy and sitcomlike, delivered hearty laughs along with the expected cultural touchstones.

“Steins” manages a few chuckles while playfully tweaking the Jewish faith. It’s all in good fun, but like most of Papa Marshall’s oeuvre, the finished product is inoffensive and forgettable.


WHAT: “Keeping Up With the Steins”

RATING: PG:13 (Some adult language, nudity and brief drug references)

CREDITS: Directed by Scott Marshall. Written by Mark Zakarin.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: https://keepingupwiththesteins.com/


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