© 2009 Ray Wong
At first glance, All About Steve looks like a quirky romantic comedy about a quirky heroine played by quirky Sandra Bullock. But don't let the appearance fool you. The comedy is not romantic at all.
Mary (Sandra Bullock) is the crossword puzzle creator at the Sacramento Herald. Intelligent and chatty, Mary considers herself "not normal" and she lives with her parents and has no social life. When her parents set her up with a blind date, she easily disregard the gesture as yet another failed attempt to find love. That is, until she sees how good-looking her date, Steve, is. It's love (or lust) at first sight, and it seems that Steve feels the same way. That is, until she opens her mouth and forgets to shut it. Steve thinks Mary is crazy and tactfully gets out of the date, leaving Mary confused about his intent.
Mary becomes obsessed with Steve and believes they belong together. She knows Steve is a cable news cameraman, who works alongside star reporter Hartman (Thomas Haden Church) who lusts for the anchor desk, and their assistant, Angus (Ken Jeong). Wherever there is national news, there is where Steve will be. So Mary tracks him down. Even though Steve tries to explain to her that he doesn't mean what he said and that he has no interest in her, Mary refuses to believe that. Along the way, Mary makes many new friends despite her quirky, off-the-wall personality. While Steve is what she wants, ultimately she finds out what she really needs.
Sandra Bullock (The Proposal) returns to comedy this year with mixed results. She's always excelled in playing characters that are girl-next-door or a bit off the wall (think Miss Congeniality). She did a fine job as the uptight New York editor in The Proposal -- she was believable. Here, as an outcast and "oddball," Bullock seems off, miscast. First, she looks too beautiful, despite that awful fake blond hair and heavy makeup and the embarrassingly short skirt. It's as if they wanted to uglify her but instead they make her look unnatural. The role could have been perfect for someone like Ellen Page or even Sandra Oh. It's not to say Bullock doesn't try hard -- in fact, I think she tries too hard and that's the problem. She and the role simply don't fit.
Thomas Haden Church (Aliens in the Attic) has a better time playing the egomaniacal news reporter. Church is remarkably self-deprecating in playing self-absorption. His character also benefits from a very clear objective and desire: becoming news anchor. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) in all his gorgeousness seems bland in comparison to his costars. Yes, he's his usual charming self and we can see why Mary is all about Steve, and yet his character seems peripheral for some reasons. What is so difficult for him to say, "I do not like you, Mary"?
Ken Jeong (The Hangover) is emerging as one of the prominent second bananas in comedies. His performance in The Hangover is outrageous. Here, he plays a complete opposite character, as the ernest Angus, with equal deftness and comic timing. DJ Qualls (The Company Man) is sincere and sweet as Mary's new friend, Howard. Keith David (Gamer) always seems to play the same character, as he does in this movie as Steve's boss; David doesn't seem to have much range as an actor. Katy Mixon (State of Play) is cute as a button as the lovely and free-spirited Elizabeth.
Written by Kim Barker (License to Wed), the screenplay is a cacophony of comedic cliches, from the quirky heroine to the dashing love interest and the myriad of stereotypical secondary characters. Barker's dialogue is witty enough, but the plot and situations often feel forced and contrived, and implausible. Yes, I understand this is a comedy, but my opinion is that even a comedy needs to be plausible. The Hangover is full with high-concept situations but there's always a glint of plausibility in them. All About Steve does not. Take the way Mary loses her job for example -- it's totally unlikely and makes Mary look like the biggest idiot in the world instead of just love-struck. Or the way Hartman convinces Mary to follow the crew -- again, it lacks real motivation and reasons, and it only makes Hartman look like either a fool or the biggest jerk in the world.
Not to mention Sandra Bullock is miscast. She may look and act the part as an uptight editor, but she does not look like a Mary Horowitz. The casting and acting are also stereotypical with a lack of imagination.
That's not to say All About Steve is a complete disaster. There are some genuine laughs and cringe-worthy situations, but they're few and far between. Phil Traill's (Dangle) direction is flat and inconsistent. There are a few scenes that seem really off, as if they don't belong in this movie. Often, Mary comes off as just a quack, and it's difficult for us to identify with someone who stalks another person, especially with such a flimsy reason. The story takes a serious and more introspective turn near the end with a feel-good finish that only feels late and unaccomplished.
All About Steve, apparently, is all about making us laugh, whatever it takes. The result is a poor attempt at comedy and personal journey story. One advice for Barker and Traill: it's all about plausibilities!
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Keith David, Katy Mixon
Director: Phil Traill
Writers: Kim Barker
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total – 6.3 out of 10