All About Steve (Dan’s Take): D+

There’s no better way to enjoy a movie than to go in with lowered expectations. No matter how quickly a movie starts licking the drain, it will always fare infinitely better than if approached with a soaring expectation. Of course, that’s a terrible way to experience movies, but it may be the reason I’m not ready to light the rhetorical flamethrower and burn the house of All About Steve– with all the principle players in it, to the ground.

All About Steve hits theaters so below the radar (hat-tricking on the heels of Bullock’s hit The Proposal and not more than a few weeks ahead of Bullock’s The Blind Side) it’s scraping the ground. When movies arrive like this, there’s usually a simple reason: They’re not any good. Not even free-grabbing test audiences like them. And yet, if All About Steve was a car crash, it’s the kind you’d drive by and wonder where the body bags are, only to see all drivers having a curbside conversation with the po-po– all unscathed.

To its minimal credit, All About Steve does manage to inject its uninspired mess with a few spots of genuine humor. Unless you’re a sucker for the kind of cheap outlandishness served up in manufactured pandering like Wild Hogs, however, that’s not a recommendation. And if you’re even thinking about hitting this one up based on its sell as quirky-heroined romantic comedy, it’s not.

All About Steve is typical as any romcom: Mary (Sandra Bullock) is not only emotionally dysfunctional, she’s kinda “weird”. First, she wears red boots. I know, crazy, right? Second, she has a lisp. As if! Third, she’s one of those icky cruciverbalists- a person who likes words and creates crossword puzzles for the local paper (lamely, in All About Steve crossword puzzles have apparently crossed their geriatric boundary and been embraced as a life purpose and universal metaphor by the world as we know it). Fourth, she’s a run-on sentence of social tics. The kind of social ticks that–by necessity– make their bearers rosey-eyed optimists because the subsequent social rejection would otherwise put them at the end of a self-tied rope.

All pent up and isolated by her quirkiness, an ever-optimistic Mary’s hormones explode all over her blind date Steve (Bradley Cooper) two minutes into their first meeting. Of course, Steve’s just a dude. A marginally attractive girl practically forces him to get it on and he’s game. For Mary, however, attention like this is fleeting and when Steve, a news cameraman, receives an impromptu phone call Mary’s seven minutes in heaven are cut short. Steve happily bails– but not before trying to let Mary down easy with a mercy “I wish you could come with me”. Since Steve grabbed her boobs, Mary assumes Steve is her soul mate and concocts a crossword puzzle “all about Steve” that inexplicably gets her fired. Here the movie jumps its track and pitches head over ass into nowhereland as Mary chases Steve across the US (IE- various shooting locales in Southern California) in an effort to reunite with him. Because, you know, he told her he wanted her to come along, don’tcha know.

After all that, the characters don’t seek to fall in love as much as one runs while the other chases (though Bullock’s character tricks herself into this through most of the running time). Along the way Mary channels a kooky Pollyanna while attracting scores of people who come to appreciate what a wonderful treasure she and her red boots really are.

All About Steve is a diluted story about accepting yourself– and once you understand that, the whole ridiculous affair might make the viewing a little easier on the expectations. Of course, the moral of this ugly duckling story is so wrung around itself in convoluted comedy-strained shenanigans, it took almost three paragraphs of explanation to set up the first ten minutes.

At the sputtering times the movie does work, it’s Bullock’s charm and the bachelor cadre of reporters she’s chasing (Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, Bradley Cooper). Strangely, All About Steve attempts to tackle some social commentary with a large portion of screen time going after the ridiculousness of broadcast news. There’s some genuinely barbed observation of news fabrication and the vanity “look-at-me-ism” of the rugged Anderson Cooper, John Quinones and Chris Cuomo types– particularly a scene where a rival reporter “walks a mile in Mary’s shoes” and literally films himself walking a mile in her red boots. The scene is absurd, but familiar in its reporter’s false-sincere meaninglessness. It’s in brief spots like this that Steve finds some legs.

But brief they are and the whole ugly duckling/social commentary/romcom conceit is inexcusably slapdash– like two short films with the same actors competing for attention. While skewering TV news is a nice theme, the second half tries dovetailing it with “Mary’s quest” and implodes into such a stupidly ridiculous premise in an effort to show a character arc, it’s almost worth dismissing.  Needless to say, it involves children, sinkholes and an old mine. It’s truly ridiculous and lazy writing to construct an event so outlandish as to sell the world finally understanding Mary and a catalyst that could have been triggered in countless other ways.

But here I am trying to explain how understanding All About Steve‘s intent in any way makes the movie better. The movie still boils down to slap-stick absurdity with an ending so fabricated it’s mildly insulting– unless you think a few laughs, despite its idiocy, qualifies a movie for recommendation. I can understand in some cases it might. In this one, it doesn’t.

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