You’ve really got to admire a picture that can incorporate
references to “The Bugaloos,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Six
Million Dollar Man” on the one hand, and to Soren Kierkegaard,
Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Elaine Pagel’s “The Gnostic
Gospels” on the other, without becoming stilted or precious
in the process. But this debut feature from Jenniphr (no,
that’s not a misprint) Goodman manages the trick; though
employing an utterly conventional romantic design, it tweaks
the formula sufficiently, and populates it with enough likably
quirky characters, to come across as charmingly distinctive
rather than tiredly imitative.

Despite its impenetrable title (which, unfortunately, will
probably scare off more viewers than it attracts), and the
fact that the script is actually based on the real-life
experiences of one Duncan North, “The Tao of Steve” is
basically a spiffy modern reworking of the old plot (used, for
instance, in virtually all the Tracy-Hepburn pictures) about
two obviously incompatible people who nevertheless fall in love.
In the present case the guy is a chubby slacker named Dex
(Donal Logue) who, despite the loss of his hunky collegiate
appearance and an unsexy job as a kindergarten teacher, has
been regularly successful with the ladies (he’s enjoying, for
instance, an ongoing affair with a friend’s wife). While
reluctantly attending a ten-year school reunion, he’s smitten
with Syd (Greer Goodman, the director’s sister), a musician
and designer for the Santa Fe opera who’s staying with some
mutual friends. Before long circumstances throw Dex and
Syd together in a car-pooling scheme, and his pursuit of her
begins. The clever script lets us in on Dex’s amatory technique
by having us listen to the advice he offers to sad-sack,
love-starved roommate Dave (Kimo Wills): that’s the meaning
of “the tao of Steve,” a jokily philosophical concept that
has do do with the “art” of attracting women by being “cool”
(like such hipster Steves as McQueen and Austin)–which means,
in effect, letting girls come to you by not pursuing them too
hard. But Syd proves decidedly resistent to Dex’s strategems.
Will he eventually win her over?

To be honest, the answer to that question isn’t remotely
difficult for anyone who’s seen a movie before; nor is the
reason for Syd’s initial antipathy to Dex terribly surprising.
But “The Tao of Steve” works anyway, because the dialogue is
fresh, the central characters articulate and personable, and
the lead performances winning. Donal Logue is especially
fine, gently fashioning a portrait of the shambling, sloppy Dex
which makes him affable rather than annoying, as he
might so easily have become. (Just compare John Belushi’s
failed attempt at restraint in the similarly-themed 1981
misfire “Continental Divide” to see how easily such a figure
can slide into crude axaggeration.) Goodman’s Syd isn’t nearly
as fully realized a creation, but the actress makes her
sufficiently spiky to serve as a good foil for Dex. The
supporting players are at best adequate except for Wills, who’s
sure to be an audience favorite as the goofily good-natured

One probably shouldn’t make too much of “The Tao of Steve”–
it’s basically a piece of romantic fluff without any real
depth or poignancy. But at a time when Hollywood’s attempts
in the same genre generally prove to be crushingly cutesy
and stale, it’s refreshing to find a little picture that can
reinvigorate the formula so agreeably. It may be fluff,
but it’s bright, funny fluff.