Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

It’s “Malcolm in the Middle”, but not as funny.

It’s “Wonder Years”, but without the charm.

It’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, without all the good inter-personal stuff.  

No, it’s “Keeping Up with the Steins”, and it’s not a good movie.

Seems Benjamin Fiedler has gone and done it … about to turn 13, he has become a man. And like all boys of the Jewish faith when they reach the age of manhood, Benjamin must now suffer the trappings of having a bar mitzvah. And as the son of two upper-income parents living in LA, Benjamin’s bar mitzvah has to be a fantastic event, so that the Fiedler’s can keep up with the Steins. (Ben’s friend Zack Stein had his blow-out bar mitzvah a month before, on a cruise ship for heaven’s sake, including a live-production of the Titanic!) So Ben’s mother Joanne (Jami Gertz) and father Adam (Jeremy Piven, who basically plays a watered-down version of his Entourage character) decide that they will go all-out for Ben’s party, and even intend to rent Dodger Stadium for a baseball-themed celebration. But the mayhem really kicks-off upon the early arrival of Ben’s grandfather Irwin (Garry Marshall), who left Adam and his mother Rose (Doris Roberts) when Adam was young. And to say that Adam still harbors a grudge against Irwin would be an understatement.

The one-dimensionality of these characters is probably the most disappointing aspect of the movie. You have Catskills Grandpa, doing schtick and cracking jokes and showing his naked old-man butt. Then there’s Adam, the bitter and spiteful grown son who is angry that his father has come back into his life, but unwilling to discuss it or listen to reason or otherwise behave like an adult. Grandma is the stereotypical Jewish grandma, nagging and kibitzing  and butting-in, and stealing butter packets from restaurants. And the main character Ben, well he’s nothing more than a disinterested and confused lump, who complains that he doesn’t understand the true meaning of the Bar Mitzvah, and does little more than casually observe the mayhem that goes on around him.

This is a movie that should be about characters, interesting people who we can understand and identify with. But the characters we are given, well, they’re nothing but kids’ toys … wind ‘em up and watch ‘em go!! 

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