Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Keeping up with the Steins

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Jeremy Piven has cemented his status as vanguard of terminally hip Jews, recently appearing on the cover of Heeb magazine sporting a double olive martini and a star of David. In Steins, he plays Adam Fiedler, a slick-talking shyster with anger management issues, a virtual reprise of his role as Ari Gold on HBO's hit Entourage. On the tube, Piven is a comedic pit bull in a business suit, undercutting his viciousness with charm and occasional bouts of hugging, and he's playing almost exactly the same guy here, but with considerably less bite. In fact, just about every nasty instinct in this feature gets declawed by bit actor-turned-director Scott Marshall, who turns a promising satire into a sappy sitcom. Perhaps it's in Marshall's blood; his father Garry helmed hit shows like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley and the ultimate chick flick, Beaches.

Adding to the prime-time feel are sitcom vet Jami Gertz as Adam's comforting wife, Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as a noxiously cheery party planner and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) as the dithering granny. The whole meshugge bunch is in chaos over the impending bar mitzvah of Ben (Daryl Sabara), an event that must top the ridiculously extravagant Titanic-themed affair thrown by Adam's hated rival. That occasion makes for a hilarious scene where the boy of honor declares, "I'm the king of the Torah!" atop a replica ship while a rapper entertains the crowd with the unforgettable freestyle chorus "Hava Nagila, beer, wine, tequila." This leads the Fiedler family into neurotic fits of one-upmanship, planning an event at Dodger Stadium with hot dogs catered by Wolfgang Puck, with a documentary crew filming the whole planning process. Meanwhile, in a moment of rebellion, Ben manages to track down his estranged grandfather Irwin (played by the director's daddy, Garry) now shacked up on an Indian reservation with a much younger blond snack named Sandy (Daryl Hannah). Irwin and his hippie lover are frolicking naked in the pool, taking Ben for joyrides in their crappy RV. Here the clever spoofing starts to recede, replaced by family melodrama and oh-so-heartwarming reconciliations. Garry Marshall's cranky-old-man shtick is funny in short bursts, but once he starts laying on the deli counter wisdom, it all heads south.

The concentrated Jewish-ness of the script, which throws around more Yiddish than a Jackie Mason show, would seem like stereotyping, if the movie didn't treat it as a point of honor. Its seems the Jews now have their own version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding — but whether that's a good thing is debatable

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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