Two Comedies from Miramax
Keeping Up With The Steins (October 28/06)
There's little doubt that Keeping Up With The Steins benefits greatly from the mere presence of Jeremy Piven, as the actor delivers a performance that's as charismatic and compelling as one might've expected. Trapped within the confines of a predictable, exceedingly routine storyline, Piven periodically injects the film with much-appreciated bursts of spontaneity - ensuring that, at the very least, the whole thing never quite sinks into flat-out tedium. Revolving around the hijinks that ensue after an affluent family decides to plan the Bar Mitzvah to end all Bar Mitzvahs, Keeping Up With The Steins marks the directorial debut of Scott (son of Garry) Marshall, and it's clear almost immediately that the filmmaker has inherited his father's predilection for bland visuals and pedestrian storytelling. In all fairness, Mark Zakarin's sitcom-level screenplay would leave even the most talented director powerless (this is the sort of material one would expect from a family-oriented movie-of-a-week). But despite the film's various deficiencies, there's enough charm within the proceedings to warrant an extremely mild recommendation - with the surprisingly effective supporting performances (even the elder Marshall offers up some unusually subtle work) and quirky soundtrack choices (ie The Polyphonic Spree, The Lilys, etc) going a long way towards keeping things mildly interesting.
Written and directed by Daphna Kastner (who also assumes the central role), Spanish Fly is a tedious, sporadically interminable romantic drama that has virtually nothing authentic to say about contemporary relationships. Set in Madrid, the film follows American reporter Zoe (Kastner) as she attempts to complete a book on machismo - a task that's complicated by her own incompetence with the opposite sex. Kastner infuses Spanish Fly with an aimless vibe that becomes more and more infuriating as the movie progresses, with the filmmaker's penchant for broad directorial flourishes (ie choppy editing, quick zooms, etc) only exacerbating such problems. Kastner's decision to transform Zoe into a thoroughly unlikable and downright obnoxious figure doesn't help matters, and there's little doubt that even the most patient viewer will be left rolling their eyes at some of Zoe's dunderheaded choices. It's too bad, really, as Kastner herself is a fairly decent actress (she sort of comes off as an ethnic Ione Skye), and the film has likewise been populated with several familiar faces (ie Martin Donovan and Danny Huston) - though such positives are far too infrequent to warrant even a mild recommendation.