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.