All About Steve

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It was just this past June that I was praising Sandra Bullock for making “The Proposal” almost tolerable — a great testament to her charisma and likability, given how exceedingly awful “The Proposal” ought to have been otherwise. And now, less than three months later, here’s “All About Steve,” during which I wanted nothing more than to punch her in the face and never stop punching.

Sweet Hitler’s handbag, what a monstrosity this is, as wrongheaded and stupid a comedy as Bullock has ever appeared in. In fact, let me check the cast list: Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, DJ Qualls, Keith David, Ken Jeong — yep, this is the worst thing any of these of people has ever been in. My biggest surprise is scanning the credits and not seeing the name Wayans or Prinze Jr. anywhere.

Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, an awful creation on the order of a one-dimensional “Saturday Night Live” character whose sketch would have been cut after the dress rehearsal. Mary’s deal is that she’s socially incompetent, nerdy to the extreme, forever spouting random facts. Her job is constructing crossword puzzles for the Sacramento Herald, which would be a full-time gig if she did it more than once a week. She doesn’t, though, so she lives with her parents (Beth Grant and Howard Hesseman, both underused). And because no annoying film is complete without unnecessary narration, Mary also provides voice-over commentary, usually trying to use crosswords as a metaphor for life.

Mary goes on a blind date with a man named Steve (Bradley Cooper), who turns out to be very handsome and nice, with a good career as a cameraman for the CCN cable news network, which is, for some reason, headquartered in Sacramento. Steve finds Mary attractive but is immediately put off by how insane and clingy she behaves in the first five minutes of the date, so he makes up an excuse about being called in to work and cuts things short. Mary, being a clueless moron, thinks he’s in love with her and constructs a crossword puzzle devoted entirely to him: what his car smells like, what color his eyes are, etc. The puzzle appears in the paper, upsetting and baffling readers, and Mary is fired. In her defense, I would point out that it is customary at most news publications for someone to actually read the material before it is printed, but evidently Mary had been given carte blanche to print whatever she wanted.

Now unemployed even by her meager standards of what constitutes employment, Mary figures the only reasonable thing is to follow Steve on the road as he goes from one national news event to the next. Steve is alarmed to see Mary following him, of course, and not a little terrified, as well he should be. She is obviously not just “quirky” or “different,” but legitimately unstable.

Let me tell you how things work at the CCN cable news network. Steve holds the camera for CCN’s rugged field reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church), and the two are accompanied by a producer, Angus (Ken Jeong). These three are apparently CCN’s only field team. First they’re sent to a hostage crisis in Tucson (distance from Sacramento: 870 miles), which they arrive at via the network’s news van. Luckily, the hostages were still being held when the crew arrived after what must have been 12 hours of driving. Once that crisis is resolved, they’re sent to Oklahoma City, which is about a thousand miles from Tucson, or 13-15 hours of driving, for another story about a three-legged baby. From there it’s a relatively short trip to the next national news story, a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, which is just 500 miles from Oklahoma City. The next one’s a doozy, though: All the way from Galveston to Clear Creek, Colo., some 1,250 miles and a good 17 hours away.

That CCN van must have a jet engine, though, because Steve, Hartman, and Angus always manage to arrive at the scene before they miss anything good. This efficiency is no doubt why the CCN higher-ups haven’t yet seen a need to engage the resources of regional affiliates. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

But anyway. Steve tells Mary in no uncertain terms that he does not want her stalking him all over the country, but this has no effect. Why? Because Hartman secretly pulls Mary aside and tells her Steve’s in love with her, and that she should disregard his protestations. This is cruel, obviously. What’s more, the movie doesn’t see fit to provide Hartman with a reason for doing this. He just DOES it.

In Oklahoma City, Mary meets up with some other misfits, a bubbly but dim girl named Elizabeth (Katy Mixon) and a dorky guy named Howard (DJ Qualls). The film sets up Howard as being Mary’s alternate love interest, since he actually likes her and has some common interests with her, but then changes its mind. In the meantime, Howard has an old Gremlin that runs well enough, and he and Elizabeth are glad to help Mary do her cross-country stalking. (Prior to meeting up with them, she is forced to take buses and hitchhike, which is a terrible way to stalk, especially when your prey has a rocket-powered news van at his disposal.)

The news event in Clear Creek involves kids falling down an old mine shaft, and it winds up occupying much of the film’s latter half as Mary inadvertently gets involved in the rescue effort and becomes a national celebrity. Maybe she’s not so bad after all, Steve starts to think. Look how many people adore her!

I do not recall ever laughing at anything the film intended as funny, though I did laugh occasionally at its ineptitude: its obliviousness to the realities of human interactions, its illogical plot, its butterfingered attempts at sentimentality, its crazy assertion that even people who have obvious mental defects and may be a danger to others should just “be themselves.” And maybe I laughed a little at the idea of Sandra Bullock (born 1964) hooking up with Bradley Cooper (1975) or DJ Qualls (1978). Keith David, who plays the barking CCN news director, was born in 1956, so he’d be a better match for her, age-wise.

When I am not watching “All About Steve,” I agree with most of America that Sandra Bullock is witty and effervescent and delightful. My goodness, she deserves better than this. (She’s one of the film’s producers, too, so there’s no excuse.) When I am watching “All About Steve,” however, I cringe at how tone-deaf her performance is, how unfunny the semi-farcical situations are, how wasted the talented cast is. How are audiences supposed to like this character? She is an object of pity and derision. Mostly I just want her to shut up. Mary is a chatterbox, but one who never says anything interesting or funny. This, in itself, is supposed to be funny, but it isn’t. It’s irritating. Mary never stops talking, even when, as in one sequence, her only companion is a deaf child. HOW I ENVIED THAT DEAF CHILD!

The screenplay is by Kim Barker, who co-wrote “License to Wed,” the Robin Williams vehicle that was one of the worst films of 2007. The director is Phil Traill, who’s made, I don’t know, some short films or something. Directed a couple TV shows. If he goes on to do magnificent things, as plenty of directors have done after ghastly debuts, perhaps he will laugh with interviewers when they mention “All About Steve,” which is soon to join the pantheon of legendarily bad comedies. You need to have a sense of humor about these things, after all. If you go around insisting “All About Steve” was an effective and entertaining comedy, people are going to think you’re insane — whoops, I’m sorry, they’ll think you’re “just being yourself.”

F (1 hr., 27 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, a little vulgarity and innuendo.)

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