Have you ever had the feeling that something bad, even calamitous, was about to happen in your life? It's a strange and queasy experience, and one that reads on all of the poor actors' faces who have the vast misfortune of appearing in "All About Steve." This is a downright cadaverous romantic comedy, one that forgot the romance and the comedy, going wrong in so many ways it's hard to know where to start. That the film has found its way to theater screens is either a miracle or a sick joke, depending on which angle one cares to look at it from. Television director Phil Traill, making his feature debut, had better have enjoyed the job while it lasted; it's the first and likely last movie he will ever be entrusted to make. The same could be said of screenwriter Kim Barker (2007's "License to Wed
"), whose pen is filled with poison and whose medicine cabinet apparently has been stocked with idiot pills.
The opening ten minutes of "All About Steve" are as good as things get, introducing the viewer to underappreciated, terminally single crossword constructor Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Sandra Bullock). A self-proclaimed Jewish-Catholic, Mary wears the same pair of red boots everywhere she goes, tries without success to convince her boss (Homes Osborne) at the Sacramento Herald
to increase her workload beyond a single puzzle per week, and only has one friend (her pet hamster). Speaking at a local school's career day, she is ridiculed by the students for her profession as a cruciverbalist, and also for living with her parents while her apartment is being fumigated. The viewer sympathizes with Mary in these early moments, but her offbeat charms quickly sour when she goes on a blind date with hunky news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) and sexually attacks him in his van before he has even pulled away from her house. Unable to stop chattering about word definitions and synonyms as she mounts him, Mary understandably creeps out Steve, who is only so happy to receive a phone call from work telling him he has to travel for a news story. Before she exits his van, she finds an empty Twinkie wrapper that she stuffs down her bra and misconstrues Steve's disingenuous desire for her to tag along with him as sincerity.
Subsequently fired from her job for publishing a crossword with every answer revolving around Steve, Mary believes she and him are meant to be together and takes to the open road. From a hostage situation in Tucson, to a medical controversy involving a baby born with three legs in Oklahoma City, to a hurricane in Galveston, to a potential abandoned mine tragedy in Silver Plume, Colorado, Mary tirelessly pursues Steve and his news crew to every location they travel to even though it's blindingly clear Steve isn't the least bit interested in her. The story, if you can believe it, goes further downhill from there, culminating in an ending with the power to make some audience members physically ill.
"All About Steve" is amateurish bordering on deplorable. Whatever Sandra Bullock (2009's "The Proposal
") was thinking when she signed on for this project and agreed to produce it is anyone's guess. Watching her lisp, rant and rave her way through the unperformable role of Mary Horowitz is embarrassing to witness, the admittedly great-looking 45-year-old actress forced to revert to acting like a socially awkward schoolgirl. That Mary is not a teenager or even a twenty-something turns the proceedings into a depressing study in mental instability. Mary is not merely quirky; she's a stalker and a loon, made to look like a fool by director Phil Traill up until an about-face third act that tries to deem her crazed behavior as acceptable and promote her, no joke, into the position of a virtual deity.
Billed as a romance, the never-was love story is just thata delusional fantasy cooked up by Mary and definitely not reciprocated. The would-be wacky hijinks occurring on her road trip are insufferable, each plot point and character more artificial than the last. Yes, a twister makes an appearance, as does a pro-leg protestor (DJ Qualls) who carves apples into celebrities and religious figures. The sight of a group of deaf children falling into a mineshaft is played for giggles, as is the eminent threat of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Were that not enough, the pacing is beyond lethargic, scenes taking so long to play out that most of them eventually boil down to a bunch of frowning actors flapping their jaws while trying to make sense of the cinematic wreck they have found themselves in.
Sandra Bullock is usually a joy to watch, but even her all is not enough to make Mary Horowitz palatable. The way this heroine-turned-antagonist-turned-demigoddess has been written is unforgivable, confused and irritating, made all the worse by her incessant narration about crossword puzzles no matter what is happening on the screen. As the title character of Steve, the typically smarmy-looking Bradley Cooper (2009's "The Hangover
") is far more likable than he usually is, perhaps because the viewer can relate to his wish that Mary take a long walk off a short pier. Meanwhile, Thomas Haden Church (2009's "Imagine That
") acts like his mind is elsewhere as egotistical news reporter Hartman Hughes, and Katy Mixon (2009's "The Informers
") outshines everyone in the thankless but cheery part of Elizabeth, a good-willed protestor whom Mary befriends along her journey of skewed self-acceptance.
"All About Steve" is rotten as it strives for laughs that don't come, but it gets even worse when it turns into, of all things, a straight, self-satisfied rescue drama. Cornball beyond the legal limits of how much corn can be used to make a ball, the film suddenly turns into a sermon about embracing one's individuality. It's a valuable, if pat, message, but somehow it doesn't seem fit when the person learning to love herself has far more deep-seated problems than this trifle from hell is willing to acknowledge. When Mary, in all seriousness, tearfully confesses that she wears her red boots because they make her toes "feel like ten friends on a camping trip," the viewer doesn't know whether to explode in fits of laughter or die from the osmosis of Sandra Bullock's own cringe-inducing humiliation. Above all else, "All About Steve" is the actress' reigning debacle to live down. Remaking "Speed 2" or joining forces with Denis Leary on a sequel to "Two If by Sea" would have both been preferable to the disastrous doozy she's found herself in this time.