The debut of director Scott Marshall (son of director Garry, who also appears) is this mildly amusing (if rather sitcom-ish) comedy about ridiculously over-the-top Bar-Mitzvahs in a wealthy L.A. burb. The film opens with Zachary Stein's bash, a "Titanic"-themed celebration that happens to take place on a cruise ship and opens with Zachary riding into the room on a fake cruise ship.
In the audience are Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara) and his parents, Adam (Jeremy Piven) and Joanne (Jamie Gertz). Ben's on the verge of Bar Mitzvah-hood and Adam's main concern is throwing the biggest party possible: in other words, throwing a party that'll make Zach's look minor in comparison. When Benjamin throws out baseball as a theme, Adam comes up with his plan: rent out Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile, Benjamin has secretly sent out an invitation to his grandfather, Irwin (Garry Marshall). Irwin ran out on his wife (Doris Roberts) years ago and now lives on an Indian reservation with his girlfriend, Sacred Feather (Darryl Hannah).
Once the Grandparents arrive, the film starts to shift away from the whole Bar Mitzvah process and heads into a discussion of the importance of family. However, there's an in-between stretch in there where the film spins its wheels, not heading anywhere quickly enough. The picture starts off like it's going to poke a bit at people spending altogether too much on religious celebrations (or teenage parties in general: see MTV's "My Super Sweet 16".) However, the movie abandons this path before too long and heads for sappier waters (family and forgiveness, among other elements). The film's lessons and messages are fine in theory, but the film never quite manages to blend comedy and drama, taking away from both sides. The conflicts are wrapped up with a bow and a Neil Diamond performance at the end.
The picture's humor and emotional moments are largely easy, sitcom-style stuff, but the enjoyable cast makes it work at least somewhat better. Piven is essentially providing a low-key copy of his "Entourage" character, but Marshall (who, as I've said before, could make reading the phone book funny) and Roberts are more enjoyable as the grandparents. Sabara's performance is just fine when he actually does speak - he provides altogether too much narration.
"Steins" offers a few laughs here-and-there and some nice moments. However, had the film stuck with poking at the ridiculous parties and just mixed in a few touches of sentimentality towards the end, it would have gone more smoothly.
VIDEO: "Keeping Up With the Steins" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is reasonably good, with adequate sharpness and detail throughout much of the film, save for a few interiors that look a tad too dark. Some minor artifacting and edge enhancement was spotted, but no print flaws were seen. Colors generally looked bright and nicely saturated, although they looked a tad smeary in a couple of dimly-lit scenes.
SOUND: "Keeping Up With the Steins" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. However, the picture might as well have been in mono: the film's audio is almost completely dialogue-driven, aside from a few minor pop tunes on the soundtrack. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and no distortion or other concerns.
EXTRAS: Scott Marshall and Garry Marshall share a commentary track and Scott Marshall joins writer/producer Mark Zakarin on the other commentary. The elder Marshall provides another very funny discussion, throwing out some very funny and very honest remarks about being in the film. The pair discuss shooting on a very low budget, chatting about the challenges and problems that came up, as well as how they solved some of the issues (while Marshall's mom wouldn't let him shoot in the house, he could film on the tennis court outside.) There's also 6 deleted scenes w/optional commentary, a short promo featurette and trailers for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Steins" offers a few laughs here-and-there and some nice moments. However, had the film stuck with poking at the ridiculous parties and just mixed in a few touches of sentimentality towards the end, it would have gone more smoothly. The DVD offers satisfactory audio/video quality and a very nice set of extras. Rent it.
The Film C+