Plot: What’s it about?
Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara) is about to pass into manhood, as his bar mitzvah is just around the corner and the celebration is going to be massive. This is a time when Ben should feel like the center of the world, but instead, the focus seems to be on his father, Adam (Jeremy Piven). His father is planning the party to take place after ceremony and has consumed him. He wants to make sure Ben has the biggest, most elaborate party ever, but not for the reasons he should. Of course he wants Ben to enjoy himself, but his real goal is outdo the extravagant bash put on by the Steins. Adam feels like he has to not just keep up with the Steins, but top whatever they do, including the bar mitzvah celebration. He even gets so consumed by the planning, he isn’t around as Ben prepares for this big step in his life. Luckily for Ben, his grandfather Irwin (Garry Marshall) is around to show him the ropes of life as a man. Although Irwin left his family in his younger days, which is part of the reason Adam pushes so hard to make sure Ben has all the things he was never given. But is Adam neglecting the most basic needs in favor of less important ones and if so, will he learn his lesson?
There is a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, a line that often makes the difference between a good movie and a mediocre one. Keeping Up with the Steins tries to have genuine emotion, but sticks to the same old formula too much, winding up as bland melodrama. The word bland is exactly how I would sum up this movie, it isn’t bad, just mediocre. The film has no real personality of its own, instead it follows a predictable routine that we’ve seen countless times before. The filmmakers don’t even throw in any curve balls to keep things fresh, opting to simply rehash. As much as the movie wants to be warm and sincere, it comes off as forced and never really keeps up interested. As a drama, it fails totally and couldn’t stand at all, while as a comedy, it fails to deliver humor in even a moderate dose. I suppose you can admire the intentions here, but in the end, the movie is bland and simply isn’t worth the effort. A few good performances can be found, but the cast is stunted by the mediocre material. Keeping Up with the Steins isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t a good movie, so unless you’re dying to see this one, I’d recommend against even a rental.
Video: How does it look?
Keeping Up with the Steins is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print looks great, with no marks, nicks, or other defects, including grain, so this a clean source. So even in the darker scenes, which are not too frequent, the detail level remains high and the visuals never have a soft texture. The colors look bright when needed and more natural when called for, while black levels are razor sharp and as well balanced as we could ask. In other words, another excellent visual presentation from Miramax.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 option is more than solid, but of course, this is a dialogue driven picture and that means limited surround use. The musical soundtrack sparks the speakers at times, but aside from that, this one is anchored in the front channels. The dialogue is clean and crisp in this mix, with no volume or clarity issues to contend with. As far as dialogue reliant flick soundtracks go, this is a good one and while it isn’t that active, all the elements seem in order. This is a basic comedy after all, so we shouldn’t expect that much. This disc also includes a Spanish language track, as well as English and French subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The film’s director Scott Marshall is present on both of the commentary tracks, the first with writer Mark Zakarin and the second with his father, star Garry Marshall. As expected, everyone seems to love the movie and feels like it is a small masterpiece. As humorous as that sounds, it leaves us with three hours of back patting and handing out compliments. I don’t expect filmmakers to trash their own work, but they shouldn’t act as if their film is the next Citizen Kane, when it is this bad. As usual however, Garry Marshall is a fun listen and while he isn’t candid, he does have some worthwhile moments. This disc also includes a brief promotional featurette, as well as some deleted scenes.