A film review by Craig J. Koban September 27, 2009


2009, PG-13, 87 mins.

Mary: Sandra Bullock / Steve: Bradley Cooper / Hughes: Thomas Haden Church / Mr. Horowitz: Howard Hesseman / Corbitt: Keith David

Directed by Phil Traill / Written by Kim Barker

ALL ABOUT STEVE is a comedy of unpardonable and excruciating awfulness.  I think it’s supposed to be a comedy, but the film is altogether void of any hearty laughs, let alone any modest chuckles.  I think it’s supposed to be a romance, but the underlining psychotic nature of the main female character hits such an inexorably creepy and sour vibe that I found myself hoping that she would end up in a straight jacket and not in the arms of the man she “loves.”  Oh, and I think that the film is also supposed to be a sly media satire, but its attempts at scathing and cynical commentary at the expense of the oftentimes duplicitous nature of contemporary news coverage has all the empty-headed soul and stunning irrelevance of a Glen Beck tirade. 

Hell, even the film’s title is an anemic attempt at a desperate laugh.  Oh, wait…it’s a clever play on 1950’s ALL ABOUT EVE, but this time they have put the letters s and t in it in reference to one of the male characters of the film.  By the beard of Zeus, that is fiendishly clever! 

The comedy is a non-entity here, the romance is stuffy and clumsy, and the satire is ham-infested….so what else could be wrong with this mystifyingly inept film?  Well, ALL ABOUT STEVE is also one of the most condescendingly phony films I’ve seen in a long time.  It takes some painfully steps to force us to understand the mindset of its female protagonist and, ultimately, wishes us to inevitably like and root her on to final romantic victory with the man she desires.  

Here’s the problem: the woman in the film – even when played by the typically perky and amiable Sandra Bullock – is not likeable.  She is not fun to be around.  She is not normal.  She is not a figure that is worthy of our rooting interest.  If anything, she is an incessantly talkative blabbermouth that engages in behaviour that would be best described as mentally unstable.  She is obsessive to the point of stalking her male suitor, even when, after numerous attempts, he has all but told her to leave him alone and to never speak to him again.  After several verbal warnings, this utterly deranged nut bar continues on her self-delusional way and stops at nothing to ensure that they will be a couple, whether the man wants to or not.  This woman is not ordinary; she is a tyrannically insane person that needs psychiatric assistance. 

If you were to tell me (before having see the film) that Bullock – who has made a career out of effectively blending childlike adorability and exuberance with a low key sex appeal and charm – would be the most disturbed and repugnant element in this rom-com, than I would have rolled my eyes in disdain.  But ALL ABOUT STEVE is career kryptonite for her for how it dissects all of the amiable traits that has made her a massive star; instead, the film never once appeases her good performance instincts.  There is rarely a moment in the film where Bullock even moderately makes her character appealing and sympathetic.  How can any sane viewer find the repeated actions of a lunatic alluring on any level?  I surely have no idea, but what I am positive of is that Bullock certainly deserves a gigantic finger wag of shame for not only starring in, but also executive producing this humiliating film. 

Hold on a minute!  Maybe I am way off base here, because ALL ABOUT STEVE starts by showing us the incurably energetic and precocious Mary Horowitiz (Bullock) who just happens to be a cruciverbalist (that is a person that creates newspaper crossword puzzles).  She is in her forties, still generally attractive, but nonetheless still single, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that (a) she cannot shut the hell up for one second to allow someone else a chance to reveal their feelings to her, (b) she is far too unhealthily infatuated with the grandeur and importance of her job and (c) she wears big, clunky, and ostentatious high heeled disco boots with a daily ensemble that borders on whorish.  She also lives at home with her parents, albeit temporarily, which certainly interferes with any budding sex life. 

However, fate – as it always does in rom-coms – obligatorily steps in:  Her parents arrange a blind date a strapping, good looking, and well mannered Steve (Bradley Cooper, never once reliving the comic heights he reached earlier this summer in THE HANGOVER), who works as a TV cameraman for CCN, not CNN, but CCN, a network that is apparently so distressed for ratings that it continues to support on-air-talent like Hartman Hughes (Thomas Hayden Church), even when he systematically reveals why he should never, ever be in front of a camera.  Anyhoo’, when the sex and man-starved Mary first gazes on the hunky, surfer-like Adonis that is Steve, it is instant lust, I mean, love at first sight.  In no uncertain terms, she thinks that this is the man that she must spend the rest of her existence with. 

After their very awkward meet-cute, Mary and Steve’s first date ends before it nearly starts:  He walks her over to his news van and politely opens the door for her so she can get in.  When they about ready to pull out of her parent’s driveway the ravenous Mart thrusts herself on the surprised Steve and hauls him into the backseat for a quickie.  Initially, Steve thinks things are going well, but the heated foreplay very abruptly morphs into something very far from being erotic when Mary can’t stop persistently talking about needless and redundant facts about nothingness.  That, and she also can’t keep her trap shut about how badly Steve and her are destined to be together.  Of course, all of this crazy babble from a stranger would bother any rational man, and Steve certainly becomes very disturbed.  With blinding luck, he receives a cell phone call from his bosses as CCN that he needs to be called away on assignment ASAP, which thankfully means that he can immediately end his date with the loony-tunes Mary and part ways, hopefully forever.  Regrettably, Steve gives her to worst brush off line in the alpha male playbook, which never once hints that he never wants to see her again. 

Alas, Mary has become so enamored with Steve that she spends the night creating a unique – if not alarming – new crossword puzzle for the next day’s edition that she calls “All About Steve”, which, of course, only contains Steve-centric facts and hints based on her limited time with the man.  Now, the film exists in some sort of bizarre alternate universe where the editors of the paper don’t even do so much as a proof read of the puzzle before printing to see that it is the work of a mad person.  Yet, publish it they do, and when it becomes apparent that Mary is instable, the paper fires her.  However, she does not let this bad news get to her, as she hatches a plan to travel across the country to reunite with Steve – while he is on assignment – so that they can live happily ever after. 

I very rarely wish any ill will on anybody, fictional or not, but there is a point in the film where – I kid you not – Mary ends up in at the bottom of a collapsed mineshaft with a deaf child (don’t ask) that is rapidly filling up with deathly, carbon monoxide fumes that threatens to poison and kill her.  The only bit of mercy that ALL ABOUT STEVE could have levied on fidgety and wearisome viewers at this point would have been to let her perish.  But, of course, her being there, facing death, leads to a media circus – that Steve’s CCN crew is a part of – arriving to cover the event.  This, in turn, leads to the film’s patronizing attempts to make us feel pity for Mary which further leads to some of the film’s wretched social satire about how the salivating media makes people like Mary into freakish caricatures.  And, if these events were not degrading and putridly inauthentic enough, viewers are forced to sit through an embarrassingly counterfeit moment when Steve begins to rethink his feelings for Mary because – gosh darn it – she’s not a clinically mad woman that’s been endlessly stalking him wherever he goes, but just a happy, free-spirited, and independent woman that “should not change for anyone” as he tells her later, because she's just got a big heart of gold.

Excuse me, but I must now barf. 

Just consider this: if the sexes of the film’s two characters were reversed and Steve was the incredulously zealot-like cretin that tried to perform near-date rape on Mary, could not take a hint from the woman that no means no, and then continued to peruse her anywhere to the point of incurable dementia, then I believe that female viewers would find the film wholeheartedly vile and nauseating.   Yet, many of the female viewers in the film laughed it up all through ALL ABOUT STEVE when the abominably weird and unnerving Mary repeatedly shadows her male prey with a salivating determination and oppressive vigor.  Mary’s behavior is never funny or cute, but just eerie.  The manner with which the film indefensibly tries to make us empathize with her latter in the story is disdainful and pathetic: the feel-good message here, I believe, is that Mary is just a misunderstood diamond in the rough that just has trouble fitting in.   There has rarely been a more smugly manufactured and lethargically convenient rationale for a character's madness than what is on display here.   

I would rather spend 90 minutes pulling out all of my hair and ramming my head against a concrete wall while doing the most impossibly hard crossword puzzle than to sit through the overwhelming objectionable and monumentally unfunny ALL ABOUT STEVE again.  To say that it just may be one of Bullock’s lowest points in her comedic career may be the grandest of understatements, because she all but squanders her beauty, tact as an actress, and delightfulness here by playing a character that is a human embodiment of fingernails on a chalkboard.  Compared to other recent rom-coms that tenderly and plausibly tapped into the pulse of what doomed relationships based on lust masking as love are like – like the wonderfully sublime (500) DAYS OF SUMMER – ALL ABOUT STEVE has absolutely no grounding in any earthbound reality.  It’s simply one of 2009’s most dreary, unauthentic, and improbably wrongheaded comedies.  Much like the character within it, the film itself is helplessly insufferable and lacks any redeeming virtues.

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