Step away from The Steps

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      Starring Jason Ritter. Rated 14A

      No, it isn’t a 12-step-recovery drama, but viewers may feel mildly hungover after an evening with this TV-level comedy of family dysfunction.

      The only saving grace here is a generally agreeable, largely Canadian cast led by Yank Jason Ritter—talented son of Three’s Company’s John and grandson of country star Tex. His uptight Jeff is a would-be Wall Street power dude currently hiding his recent failings in business and romance. Sister Marla (Montreal-born Emmanuelle Chriqui) is a promiscuous Princeton grad who can’t quite get it together either.

      Their problems apparently stem from the expectations placed on them by dear old dad, a high-finance silver fox played by James Brolin. Now the old guy has remarried, and the resentful siblings are drafted to go to Ontario’s Lake Country to meet his new Canadian family. These in-laws, or “steps”, are led by ex-waitress Sherry (Christine Lahti—the one you want when Mercedes Ruehl’s not available), who has three grown sons from three different fathers they don’t know.

      Much is made of the culture clash between the old man’s Manhattan world and the working-class trio of redneck David (Benjamin Arthur), failed musician Keith (Steven McCarthy), and academically inclined Sam (Dr. Cabbie’s Vinay Virmani), plus David’s ditzy blond wife (Kate Corbett). This is boring to begin with, and novice screenwriter Robyn Harding makes it worse by displaying little inside knowledge of or affection for any of the worlds colliding.

      These characters are mere collections of stereotypical problems, wound up like robots and pushed into each other at random. And director Andrew Currie, who showed promise with early efforts like the thriller Mile Zero and zombie spoof Fido, seems content to go through the Lifetime Channel motions, occasionally allowing the actors to pair off in vaguely serious conversations. They dutifully supply the only emotions on display, but to zero cumulative effect. Step away.

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