All About Steve (Fox 2000, PG-13)

film_all-about-steve_sm.jpgIt’s disheartening to sit in a movie theater hearing dead silence greet lines which are clearly meant to be hilarious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t go to All About Steve thinking you’re going to encounter anything resembling the intelligence and wit of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s script or the sharply drawn characters created by Bette Davis and George Sanders. In fact, if you understand the allusion in the title, you probably shouldn’t go to see the film at all because you’re much too knowledgeable to be fooled by this sorry excuse for a summer romcom. It marks a new low for Sandra Bullock and makes me wonder whether she signed a pact with the devil which requires her to appear in five braindead movies for every quality role she is allowed.

In the first of many indications that screenwriter Kim Barker didn’t waste time considering little matters like plausibility, Bullock’s character Mary Horowitz supports herself by creating one crossword puzzle per week for the Sacramento Herald. Note to Barker: Hanging a lampshade on a plot deficiency doesn’t get you off the hook. Mary has an official press pass and apparently complete editorial freedom—i.e., no one looks at her work before it is published. She’s also a "nonconformist," which means that she favors red go-go boots, doesn’t know when to stop talking, and has all the common sense of a ditzy teenager. This is meant to be cute and endearing but is really just creepy unless you enjoy watching a 45-year-old woman behave like a little girl.

Mary goes on a blind date with hunky television cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) and is immediately convinced they are meant to be together. He’s initially attracted by her obvious physical charms and ready availability, but is soon relieved that a work assignment rescues him from her motormouth and apparent insanity. She’s completely oblivious to his feelings, of course, and decides to stalk him across the country.

The humor picks up with the appearance of Thomas Haden Church as a self-important anchorman named Hartman who decides it would be a funny joke to encourage Mary in her pursuit. Hartman and the news guys (including nice turns by Ken Jeong on the crew and Keith David in the home office) are funny because their comedy is a function of character rather than random jokes and sight gags. Comedy writing 101, anyone?

All About Steve spends a lot of time satirizing television news, but it’s all been done before and, like most of the film, it’s just not very funny. It’s disheartening to sit in a movie theater hearing dead silence greet lines which are clearly meant to be hilarious. To give you an idea, at the screening I attended the biggest laugh came when some hearing-impaired children fell down a mine shaft. That’s not as mean as it sounds (it was the best-lit and apparently well-cushioned mine shaft in the history of the world), but gives an indication of the laugh-free nature of the dialogue.

There are good elements in All About Steve, including some fine comedic acting in secondary roles and excellent production and costume design by Maher Ahmad and Gary Jones, respectively. The film is full of small touches which are just right, like Mary’s floral bathing cap and the floating staircase in her parents’ home. But they are overwhelmed by constant pursuit of the lowest common denominator and heavy-handed inclusion of material calibrated to attract specific audience segments. For teenage boys, you have a high jiggle factor (aided by the go-go boots and numerous braless close-ups). For girls, you have a paper-thin message about being true to yourself, underlined for the misfits by two sweet and quirky outsiders who join forces with Mary and prove that they’re the real winners in the game of life. But the main message I got from this film is that movie studios think a lot of people will pay good money to see Sandra Bullock humiliate herself yet again in front of the camera. | Sarah Boslaugh

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