"I love him, I love him, I love him,
And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow..."
-- Little Peggy March
If you told me I wouldn't like a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, I'd point at you and laugh in your ugly face. It would take near impossible levels of tampering for me to not like a film featuring either of them. But the two of them together? I'm salivating at the thought. Oh, what's that? He's shirtless in it, too? Okay, it would take some colossal, cosmic screw-up and major misalignment of the stars for me to walk away disappointed. (For more on my love for all things Sandy, check out this review. For more on Bradley with his shirt off, click here.) Simply put, it's a can't-miss combo guaranteed to please.
That is, of course, unless you're All About Steve. I heard it was bad, so I set my expectations as low as they could go. The studio seemed to agree, waiting nearly two years after filming (!) before strategically releasing it in September of 2009--after its two stars hit it big with The Hangover and The Proposal (Bullock also has The Blind Side to help viewers forget this misstep). Surely it couldn't be that bad, right? It even has that funny naked guy from Sideways and that funny little naked Asian man from The Hangover (not Bradley, silly! The other guy!). Alas, 99 minutes later I was scratching my head, wondering how a cast this great couldn't save All About Steve from near-universal scorn. What were they all thinking? How did it go so wrong?
Bullock plays cruciverbalist Mary Horowitz, a lonely, socially awkward, red boot wearin' hypochondriac who has no friends, lives with her parents and likes to talk--a lot. She spews out random facts in her signature stream-of-consciousness rants (a.k.a. nervous tics that help her deal with this cruel world). She's kind of like a cross between Rainman, Cliff Clavin from Cheers and that little kid from Jerry McGuire ("Did you know..."). As the crossword constructor for the local Sacramento Herald, she drowns herself in her work. Everything in life somehow relates to crosswords: "Some days are harder than others, and that's what keeps your brain alive. The key to surviving those tough days is to pick yourself up and stay focused on your life's purpose. For me, that's imparting the joy of crosswording to all mankind."
Cheesy, yes...but the film hadn't lost me yet. That took another 10 minutes, when animalistic Mary--unable to control her urge at the beginning of her blind date with successful cable news cameraman Steve (Cooper)--makes a fool of herself in his van (not only by jumping his bones, but by also stealing his used Twinkie wrapper for God knows what). This signals the start of her craziness, which magnifies by the minute. Her huge mistake soon follows: She creates an entire Herald crossword puzzle (you guessed it!) all about Steve (20 across: "Steve's lips taste like..."), a move that freaks out Steve and gets Mary fired--thus giving her the free time to start chasing him across the country as he travels from assignment to assignment. You see, Mary is convinced that the world is giving her clues that all point to Steve being "the one". (Add Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction to the list of her influences, rearing its psychotic self during a bathtub aria.)
And that's the thin thread that holds this repetitive mess together. Not much happens for a while, and by the time the absurd (and lengthy) final stretch arrives--a random bit involving a mineshaft (?!) where we learn a valuable lesson about accepting people for who they are and celebrating everyone's oddball quirks--it's far too late. It's not so much the plot that does this movie in, it's the strange, discordant tone it maintains and the juvenile humor (Hurricane Lekeisha? A joke about premature ejaculation? A cleavage close-up? Really?) it forces down our throats (I was stunned when I realized the movie was written by a woman, because so much of the film's forced laughs seem to be aimed at adolescent boys).
Bullock has charm, but the role is impossible. In the bonus features, the actress notes that she drew on characteristics from three influences to create Mary: a 3-and-a-half year old, writer Kim Barker and herself "at my most amped and manic." The character is hard to like from the beginning, and not because she's weird--it's because she's, you know, a stalker. Her motto about crosswords/life ("The worst thing you can do is leave it unfinished!") sure is admirable--except when it involves her man obsession. So even though we recognize that Steve is part asshole, you still sympathize with his situation (and wonder why he doesn't call the cops and snap a restraining order on her ass).
But then when his co-workers--vain anchor Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church) and frazzled producer Angus (Ken Jeong)--start to feed Mary's frenzy in an effort to enjoy Steve's pain, we're suddenly supposed to feel sorry for her. Turns out everyone here is part asshole--like the driver who dumps Mary off the bus because her incessant talking is annoying everybody. She gets abandoned in front of the Halfway House Café, perhaps a clue from the filmmakers that Mary is "special" (a possibly repugnant twist that isn't pushed too much, although an awful scene involving a moving van and a Super Big Gulp doesn't help).
But fear not! Mary finds refuge in a band of misfits during a "Pro-leg/Anti-leg" rally (don't ask; nothing about it--including the twist on "Kumbaya"--works). They include southern bumpkin Elizabeth (Katy Mixon)--who has big boobs but doesn't understand big words--and wafer thin Howard (DJ Qualls), an outcast who carves apple heads for a living. After Steve escapes her once again, the automobile-deficient Mary tricks her new friends into driving her to his next assignment--because she's, you know, disingenuous and annoying. (And a stalker...) Along the way, we're also given equal time with the three angry amigos, who yell at each other as the film takes plenty of easy, unfunny jabs at broadcast news.
All About Steve could have easily been a much better bad movie--the final third would be slightly more effective it what preceded it wasn't so unforgivingly awful (yes, Mary...I just made up a word). I'm not sure whether the film pushes things too far or not far enough; either alternative would have worked better. Steve doesn't come close to blending its awkward (and sometimes dark) humor with the sentimentality it ultimately forces on you. Case in point of a scene that fails miserably: a group of deaf kids falling down a giant hole to their possible deaths. (In the audio commentary, we learn that originally they were mentally retarded children...good stuff, guys!)
Just what everyone was aiming for here, I have no idea. What we get is a highly uneven tone that hints at various directions but never commits to one, and a comedic tone that is impossible to warm up to. I laughed a few times at some small bits--and I still love Bullock and Cooper, who might make this worth watching for diehard fans. But this is a huge waste of their talents and charisma. I've seen much worse than All About Steve, but with the talent involved the crime is almost unforgivable.
Much like The Proposal, Bullock's other recent DVD release, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer here is solid but surprisingly dull--although it seems to represent the theatrical presentation. Expect brown, more brown and even more brown--the film frequently has a monochromatic look to it, like a warm and fuzzy '70s photograph drowning in (you guessed it) brown tones. Outsides of the red boots, not much pops off the screen, and the final sequences in the mine shaft are a little too dark for my tastes. Still, there's fine detail elsewhere, especially in close-ups. But considering its lead character, you'd expect the image to employ a little more life and color--which ultimately is more a matter of taste than a technical problem.
The 5.1 track makes a few good uses of surround channels (helicopters, a tornado, crowd noise, the light clang of Bullock's jewelry) and has clear dialogue. Dolby Surround options are available in Spanish and French, while subtitles come in English (for the hearing impaired) and Spanish.
"Just so you guys know, when someone's listening to this commentary, it's probably on a nice surround system, and it's gonna sound like a bunch of hens."
To my surprise, there's actually a decent collection of material here (for a film I was certain the studio would dump into a barebones release). The crown jewel is the audio commentary with all of the big guns: Sandra Bullock is joined by fellow actors Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church and Ken Jeong, along with director Phil Traill and writer Kim Barker (keep in mind that Bullock was not on hand for the audio commentary on The Proposal, a film I'm sure she's prouder of). These all seem like very cool people you'd love to know, and they have an absolute blast with each other as they banter about the film during this highly entertaining track (which makes the film far funnier than it is on its own).
It's kind of fun to pretend you're sitting there with all of them, your best friends, as they talk about the film, make fun of each other and spent a lot of time laughing. "This is exactly what it was like on set," notes Traill, who adds that the film is about asking ourselves, "What is normal?" The gang obviously had a blast making the film and have admiration for the project, which (despite my review) is nice to know. Lots of fun facts are shared along the way, including a few about Bullock's mother (who is singing the aria in one scene, and whose love for the Burt Reynolds' Playgirl spread inspired one set design). Bullock--who is never afraid to run with a joke, be slightly blue (she expresses dismay that an improvised line about boobs had to be cut) or call out Cooper for showing off his chest--is audio commentary gold, and the track adds to my love of everyone involved (this is one of the more enjoyable tracks I've listened to, and makes the DVD more attractive). Barker contributes the least, although her explanation of the film's inspiration--the weirdoes camping out at the Michael Jackson trial (?!)--is certainly memorable. The track is even funny at the end, when the gang frantically shouts out names and tells stories about people in the credits ("Oh my God," notes Bullock during one particulalrly spirited exchange, "we're like a hen house again.")
Up next are six deleted/alternate scenes (9:07) with optional commentary from the crew (everyone except Church is on hand). Nothing too necessary here, including the extended edit of Angus going off on his buddies in the van (which is oddly bleeped). Again, it's a more fun watch with the commentary on.
The gag reel (5:24), also with optional commentary (no Church) is worth a look (both with and without the commentary): Bullock likes to mock Cooper's habit of acting shirtless again, and again I love how she isn't afraid to get a little blue (I also loved an inadvertently funny shot that prompts the director to say "cupping the puppies"). The crew also adds that the men ad-libbed some of their material.
Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong's A Capella Duet (1:37) is short and silly, also worth a look (it also appears that some new footage not seen elsewhere is included in the background, which leads me to believe there were perhaps more bloopers and/or deleted scenes). This also has optional commentary, but just with the two actors and the director.
Hollywood Dish with Mena Micheletti (17:35) is a mock behind-the-scenes clip with Reno 911! actress Kerri Kenney (who has a small role in the film as a teacher) as the titular interviewer, a clueless fame whore who "fake irritates" the cast and crew with her awful behavior (she doesn't even recognize Ken Jeong! How crazy!). It's far too long and doesn't really work because it's too obvious and forced, not natural like the far better mock featurette Bullock helped create with FunnyOrDie.com for The Proposal (Kenney is too annoying for her own good here, especially the way she says the film's title).
All About All About Steve (10:27) is pretty basic PR fluff interviews with the cast and crew, although Bullock is charming enough to make it worth a watch--and you really believe her when she talks about casting people she genuinely likes, thus fostering a family-like atmosphere on set. That might explain the inclusion of Crew Snapshots (set to "Mary's Rap"), a group of stills (running 3:24) of the cast and crew at work behind the camera (set to a silly original song about Mary).
Finally, Fox Movie Channel presents Life After Film School with Phil Traill (23:05) is an entertaining interview by three film students, who talk to the director about his life, the film and the craft. Talking points include the film's humor (and the difference between American and English comedy), the director's happy demeanor and what attracts him to projects. Trailers round out the package.
It's a shame that the first pairing of two super-charismatic talents--Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, both actors I adore--is wasted in All About Steve. It isn't sure what it wants to be--part dark comedy, part sentimental tearjerker, part inspirational story with a message to embrace our differences. The horrible characterization of its lead character makes it impossible to enjoy, and an uneven comedic tone prevents the film from finding a groove. I've seen much worse, but this one is more disappointing considering the talent involved; it could very easily have been a much better bad film. Skip It unless you're a diehard Bullock or Cooper fan, and if it somehow ends up in your DVD player, turn on the entertaining audio commentary--which makes it a far funnier experience and helps save the DVD just a little bit.