September 10, 2009

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All About Steve (PG-13)
A nerdy Sandra Bullock stalks a freaked out Bradley Cooper in All About Steve, a weird and perplexing alleged comedy.

Mary Horowitz (Bullock) is a pretty, nerdy woman who builds the weekly crossword puzzle for the Sacramento newspaper and lives with her parents (because, as the classroom full of middle schoolers she visits for career day correctly deduces, you can’t make a living on one crossword per week). One might be inclined to describe her as vaguely Asperger’s-ish what with her obsession with facts and words and her apparent inability to correctly gauge what another person may be thinking. She also tends to over-share and to latch on a little desperately to normal politeness, misreading it for something more. Specifically, when her parents set her up on a blind date with Steve (Cooper), a camera man for a cable news network, she takes his mild first-date geniality as a sign of deep love and jumps him before they even pull away from her house. Mid awkward make-out session (when Steve quickly starts to believe that Mary might not be playing with all the letters in the box of Scrabble tiles), Steve is called away by his work to go cover something. “I wish you could come,” he says in the same tone in which one would say “I’ll call you” or “let’s get together sometime” or “your country line dancing club/obscure religious organization/vegan potluck group sounds like fun, I’ll check that out.” Mary, however, takes his meaning to be “I want us to be together, always and forever” and, after getting herself fired from her crossword job, decides to head off on the road, following Steve from one media circus (baby with three legs) to another (tornado, deaf kids stuck in a well).

Along the way, she is encouraged in her quest by Hartman (Thomas Haden Church), the egotistical, moronic and sorta cruel reporter Steve is shooting. She is, however, also befriended — by the spacey Elizabeth (Katy Mixon) and the kind, apple-sculpture-making Howard (DJ Qualls).

This movie is bad, yes, but it’s also strange and confusing and leaves you with the distinct impression that somebody was trying to do something but missed wildly. Is it just stupid or, is it, you know, stupid like a fox? On the one hand, Mary is the ne plus ultra of the humiliated female character in a romantic comedy. She is exponentially more pathetic than — you name it, Katherine Heigl’s always-a-bridesmaid, Lili Taylor’s “ugly” girl in Dogfight, any high school nerd who is wooed by the handsome guy even though she is fat/smart/tall/wearing glasses and he’s only dating her on a bet in any given sitcom/movie. But on the other hand, I hated her a lot less than the aforementioned Heigl in this summer’s The Ugly Truth. (Which coincidently also takes place in the world of Sacramento media — is this the result of some kind of contest? “Bad romantic comedy set in Sacramento, characters work in media” — winners get movie deals. You always hear how Hollywood is hard up for new ideas …) There’s a pervasive awfulness but also something kind of fascinating. It’s like viewing an ornate and bizarre mural through tears in ugly wallpaper.

Or maybe all the popcorn fumes are finally starting to rot my brain.

Whatever is going on, I wish whomever — the writer, director, Bullock —had followed that hidden and bizarre yellow brick road (tornados, shiny red shoes Mary wears throughout, the eventual desire to get back home — there is Oz-ness all over this movie). Instead, the movie indulges its weird little tendencies briefly but then veers back on to the road of late summer bleck. D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos. Directed by Phil Traill and written by Kim Barker, All About Steve is an hour and 38 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.