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Featured DVD Review - All About Steve

December 20th, 2009

All About Steve - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Sandra Bullock made three movies this year after not releasing a single film in 2008. It seems her absence made her fans grow fonder, as the first movie, The Proposal, became her highest grossing hit ever, while her third film, The Blind Side, is about to break that record. This week I'm reviewing neither of those movies, but All About Steve, a romantic comedy that was dumped into theaters on Labor Day long weekend, which is arguably the worst long weekend of the year when it comes to box office. Despite earning abysmal reviews, the film still did well enough at the box office to be considered a midlevel hit, matching expectations (nearly) perfectly. So there are some mixed signals here. Given its reviews, it is highly unlikely the film will be good, but is it at least watchable, as its box office performance suggests?

Sandra Bullock stars as Mary Horowitz, who you could describe as socially awkward, if you are trying to be generous. She still lives with her parents and has no real friends. She has no real social interactions outside of the newspaper where she works as a cruciverbalist... that's the person who makes up the crossword puzzles. ... Yeah, I didn't know what that word meant either. Because she works on crossword puzzles all of the time, she not only has an immense vocabulary, but an unparalleled collection of trivia and facts she has learned throughout her life, which she tends to spout all of the time, which has led to her socially restricted live. Personally, I would find a quirk like this endearing, but that's not how most characters in the movie react.

Since she only does one crossword puzzle a week, she doesn't make enough money to live on her own, so she lives with her parents (Beth Grant and Howard Hesseman). As the movie opens, we learn that her parents have set her up on a blind date with a man she thinks his parents think is gay. She's contemplating canceling, but when she finally sees Steve, it's love at first sight and she throws herself at him. At first, this doesn't seem to bother him, but her incessant talking does and he uses his work as an excuse to break off the date. However, in breaking it off, he says he wishes they could be together as a way of letting her down easy, so she decides to follow him around the country as he films Hartman Hughes, field reporter. Of course, Steve is mortified by this, but Hartman and Angus, their producer, think it is quite funny and encourage her by saying she should ignore what he says now and remember what he said on their first date. So she hooks up with a couple of protesters from the "Save Baby Peggy's Third Leg" group (Don't ask.) and they follow him around from story to story. For instance, the trio get caught up in Tornadocane, before finally catching up with Steve after 30 deaf kids fall in an abandoned mine shaft. It appears the kids all got out safely for a happy ending, that is until Mary herself falls into the hole. Will it take this tragedy for Steve to realize what he is missing?

Wow. This might be a record for most amount of talent going into a movie for the weakest outcome. The potential is so great that it is a little hard to exactly pinpoint where things went wrong, but I think the film's tone is the weakest link here. Or to be more specific, its inability to find and stick to the right tone.

On the one hand, it is a typical romantic comedy in a number of aspects, including the main thing that separates romantic comedies from comedies with romance in them. Specifically, the question of whether the couple will end up together. Here is main problem number one: Sandra Bullock is far too appealing as a person to make it believable that Steve< wouldn't be into her, so they had to make Mary Horowitz a caricature. Mary has to appear to be a crazed stalker to justify Steve avoiding her; however, the crazed stalker part of her personality never rang true. It felt like it was manic misunderstanding that was egged on by Steve's co-workers making her as much of a victim as Steve was of her stalking. Even then, the way Steve treats her makes him look like the psycho. It's hardly appealing to have the two leads of a romantic comedy come off as if they have mental illnesses. This genre relies on the charm and chemistry of the two leads and it is wasted here.

The film is also a satire of the news industry that is obsessed with the next big story, whether it's "Balloon Boy," Tiger Wood's love life, etc. This is absolutely a story worth telling in a movie, but satire needs an element of subtlety to work. Subtlety is nowhere to be found in this movie. While neither aspect of the movie works well on its own, it is the meshing of these two subjects that cause a lot of the problems, as the film can't decide if it is a A HREF=>comedy, a romantic comedy, a dark comedy, social satire, etc. Unable to find a its footing early on, by the time the movie comes to its conclusion, it doesn't earn its more sentimental ending.

On the other hand, while the movie was weak, the DVD is amazing. Extras start with an audio commentary track with the director, Phil Traill; the screenwriter, Kim Baker; and the four leads, Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, and Ken Jeong. This audio commentary track is as good as the movie is bad. It's lively, it's informative, it's entertaining. I would watch the movie again, just to listen to the audio commentary track. After watching it, I liked the movie more, mainly because the actors are so charming that they make their characters more sympathetic. Next up are several deleted scenes, also with optional audio commentary track. There's are also five-and-a-half minutes of outtakes, again with an optional audio commentary track. Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong do a duet about the movie green-screened in front of clips from the movie. This too has an audio commentary track. Hollywood Dish with Mena Micheletti is a 17-minutes faux-featurette with Kerri Kenney-Silver as an annoying entertainment reporter interviewing the cast. This is the only extra on the DVD that doesn't work, which is strange as Kerri Kenney-Silver is usually gold when it comes to comedy. All About All About Steve is your typical making-of featurette with talking heads, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes footage. There is a slide show of behind-the-scenes photos set to "Mary's Rap." Finally, there's an episode of Fox Movie Channel Presents... Life After Film School, which is not the epic ball of fluff I was expecting.

I don't have the Blu-ray yet, and it won't ship until Tuesday. However, it currently costs nearly 50% more on Amazon, so it will need to really impressive to be worth the extra money.

Is All About Steve as bad as its Tomatometer Score would indicate? No. But it is far from a good movie. It really needed to pick a tone and stick with it, whether that would be broad comedy, dark comedy, sentimental, etc. On the one hand, I can't recommend watching the movie unless you are a hardcore fan of the cast. On the other hand, the audio commentary is so good I'm tempted to recommend buying the DVD, while the Blu-ray will have to wait for a final recommendation.

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