Tag Archives: F

ALL ABOUT STEVE

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F

There are good romantic comedies, conventionally bad romantic comedies, and romantic comedies so incredibly awful that they almost beggar description. “All About Steve” falls into that third category. One might be tempted to call it perfectly dreadful if it didn’t seem inappropriate to utter the word “perfect” anywhere within miles of it. And the fact that its title toys with that of the great comedy “All About Eve” somehow makes it all the worse.

In Joseph Mankiewicz’s film, of course, the most famous line is Bette Davis’ injunction to prepare for a bumpy ride. “Steve” is a road movie, but viewers should be advised that the ride isn’t merely bumpy, it’s actually torturous. Sandra Bullock, in a role that unfortunately plays to all her weaknesses, stars as Mary Magdalene Horowitz—identified as Jewish Catholic apparently for no other reason than to give her a startling name. She’s employed as a cruciverbalist—or crossword-puzzle deviser—by a Sacramento newspaper (something that, in this age of journalistic belt-tightening, already strains credulity). But she’s completely inept socially, as becomes painfully clear when her parents (Howard Hesseman and Beth Grant), with whom she lives, arrange a blind date for her with Steve Muller (Bradley Cooper, as bland as ever), a cable news cameraman who flees her ASAP. But Mary’s so taken with him that, after devoting a whole puzzle to him (a stunt that costs her that unlikely job), she takes out after him, following him cross country while Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church, continuing to squander the goodwill “Sideways” brought him), the sleazeball reporter he works with, eggs her on.

It’s hard to say what’s worse about the movie—the grotesque “news” stories the group traipses to one after another, or the abysmally unfunny sequences in which Mary repeatedly accosts her prey. That’s what Steve really is, because for all the apparent desire to portray his pursuer as a charmingly ditzy goofball, she comes across more like an obsessed stalker. And as much as you’re meant to sympathize with her repeated humiliation, you’re far likelier to feel sorry for the poor shlub she’s chasing, however boring and vacuous he might be. Of course, it’s the unlucky audience that deserves the greatest compassion; they have to put up with them both, and the slimy Hartman too.

It’s pretty much predictable that the terrible script (by Kim Barker, who also penned the wretched “License to Wed”) affords the cast little chance not to be seen at their worst. There’s an understandable air of desperation to Bullock’s performance; you could say that she’s game for everything, down to wearing a pair of supremely unflattering red boots, but gamey would be more correct. She’s never been so irritating. Cooper’s dullness is predictable—like Bullock’s last co-star, Ryan Reynolds (in “The Proposal”), he’s such an empty vessel that he practically disappears from the screen. But unfortunately not quite: you can still see him. As for Church, with his smarmy turn in “Imagine That” and now this, he seems to be hurtling himself back into obscurity. One can only commiserate with all of them, and the rest of the cast, who try futilely to breathe some life into Barker’s limp situations and lame dialogue. The same goes for director Phil Traill, a veteran of TV sitcoms who was here confronted with material considerably inferior to what he dealt with for the small screen.

Mary’s intent on pursuing Steve after their date breaks off abruptly because, as she remarks about crossword puzzles, the worst thing you can do is leave it unfinished. That’s not the case with “All About Steve.” If you find yourself stuck at it, feel free to depart early. Better yet, don’t start watching it at all. You’ll be a much happier person for not having endured Mary and Steve’s far-from-excellent adventure.

And if you’re really interested in a movie about cruciverbalists, check out the documentary “Wordplay.” It’s far superior to this stinker.

GAMER

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You have to wonder what real gamers—the guys, generally, who devote a good deal of their lives to playing mostly ultra-violent video games—will make of the way they’re portrayed in this atrocious action flick from the writing-directing team that gave you that masterpiece, “Crank.” At one end the “celebrity” player, Simon Silverman (Logan Lerman) is a smug, self-centered little rich twit who spends all his time manipulating the muscular character of Kable (Gerard Butler) in an alternate-reality game called “Slayers” through massive gunfights on a shattered urban landscape. And he does so not only for his own delectation, but the entertainment of huge world-wide audiences that follow the game.

That’s bad enough. But the other gamer on prominent display is a grotesquely obese, slimy shut-in who apparently does nothing but eat and drool over the character he manipulates in another game, “Society.” His stand-in, whom he uses to seduce guys, is a scantily-dressed babe, Angie (Amber Valletta), who’s actually the wife of Kable—or, more accurately, Tilman.

Confused? Well, the ludicrous premise of “Gamer” is that both Tilman and Angie are real people who impersonate the characters in the games created by master designer Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). They’re controlled by nano-chips inserted in their brains that allow the paying players to control their movements and speech and thus live vicariously through them, supposedly thereby avoiding danger and potential injury. Sound enticing?

Anyhow, the focus is on the “Slayers” game, in which convicts on death row volunteer to participate in the hope of winning their freedom by surviving thirty missions. Kable’s on the verge of doing just that, which has made him (and his controller Silverman) international superstars. But Castle has other plans: he’s created a brutal challenger (Terry Crews) to take him out.

Of course, Castle’s the reason that Tilman/Kable is in the slammer in the first place. His experimental implant forced the guy to kill a friend of his. No wonder Tilman’s so anxious to escape, especially since he longs to be reunited with his wife and daughter. He gets help in that regard not only from Simon, who lets him act on his own, but a resistance group calling themselves Humanz, led by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. They hack into Castle’s broadcasts and know that the mogul intends to use his technology to turn the whole population into his slaves.

It’s theoretically possible that this scenario could have been molded into a reasonably amusing, if highly implausible, thriller, though at heart it’s nothing more than a high-tech variant of the hoary old story about the unjustly-imprisoned hero compelled to do battle behind bars against his wishes. (Remember the “Penitentiary” movies? Or last year’s “Death Race,” where tank-like cars replaced boxing gloves?) But Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor apparently have no idea how to do that. They’ve constructed a script of staggering incoherence, which they’ve then proceeded to direct as if they wanted to exaggerate its absurdity and mindlessness. The camerawork and editing are ADD-inspired, jittery and jagged so as to appeal to viewers with minute attention spans. And periodically a neon-lit montage interrupts the usual gloom of decrepitude, ordinarily to show the gross excesses of the “Society” game as opposed to the grubbiness of “Slayers.” This is a virulently ugly, unpleasant movie to look at as well as an incredibly stupid one, an insult to the eye as well as the brain.

And what is Butler doing in such schlock? Sure, he made “300,” but that was big-budget schlock; this is trash, impure but simple, and whatever charisma you might think he possesses is completely wasted in it. But he has a lot of embarrassed company: Valletta (who has to wear some of the most unbecoming costumes of all time), Lerman (all too convincingly a jerk), Aaron Yoo (as a dopey denizen of the Humanz group), Milo Ventimiglia (as a “Society” avatar) and John Leguizamo (as a babbling prison inmate). Worst of all is Hall, TV’s Dexter, who not only masticates the scenery gruesomely in an opening sequence against Kyra Sedgwick (who almost equals him in cartoonish flamboyance as a TV talk-show host investigating his empire) but must prance about in an extended face-off against Butler in the last reel that includes a truly embarrassing song-and-dance routine to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” It’s supposed to be darkly humorous, like much of the picture, but is more likely to draw astonished gasps at its awfulness than chuckles.

You have to wonder about the minds that concocted a monstrosity like “Gamer.” An unremitting assault on one’s intelligence as well as simple decency, it’s one of the year’s most disgusting movies.