It has been a very good year for Bradley Cooper and Sandra Bullock. He starred in one of 2009's certified smashes, the Vegas-themed laugh riot The Hangover. She reestablished her commercial credibility by turning the summer rom-com The Proposal into an honest-to-goodness hit. So putting them together in another studio comedy should equal big time box office gold, right? Well, not exactly.
That's because All About Steve is a real risk for all the talent involved, both behind and in front of the camera. This surreal creation is built around one of the most maddening and borderline unbearable characters ever conceived: Mary Horowitz (Bullock) is a nerdy cruciverbalist. She creates crossword puzzles for a living. While she wishes her editor at the Sacramento Herald would feature her more than once a week, she's nevertheless amused by the implied mental pleasures she provides the readership. Now, if she could just get a man… Article continues below
Help in that department comes in the form of network cameraman Steve (Cooper). He works for a distressed producer (Ken Jeong) and an arrogant egomaniac star reporter Hartman (Thomas Haden Church), who is gunning to be an anchor. Forced on a blind date with Mary, Steve thinks she's interesting -- that is, until she throws herself at him like a dweeb in heat.
Suddenly, he gets the crazy chick heebie-jeebies and makes a break for it. She, on the other hand, gets the mistaken feeling that they are destined for each other. Before long, Mary is running around the Southwest, chasing Steve and his news van. Things change dramatically, however, when she goes from pseudo stalker to lead story after becoming an unwitting part of a local disaster.
Cooper, Church, and several effective supporting players (Keith David, DJ Qualls) do their best with underwritten roles. But All About Steve is really all about Sandra, and your reaction to Bullock's brazen über-dork birdbrain will definitely guide how well you accept everything else the film has to offer. And you have to give her points for trying -- her trivia-obsessed geek is one of the bravest turns any A-list (or perhaps, high B+ list) actor or actress has ever attempted without the help of a fictional illness or handicap. That she succeeds more than she fails is a testament to her range and her chutzpah. That it can't completely salvage this movie illustrates its other obvious flaws.
For one, screenwriter Kim Barker spends so much time turning Mary into a walking, talking interpersonal trainwreck that she barely has time to sketch out the rest of the characters. In addition, the plotting and internal motivations within the story make absolutely no sense. One moment Steve and Hartman are working together as a team. The next, the jackass reporter is making his cameraman's life miserable for no discernible reason.
Director Phil Traill's TV training does him no good either, as he awkwardly steers the film between madcap and melodrama. The film’s wild shifts in tone never quite feel purposeful or justified. As a result, All About Steve stands as an unusual, often insufferable farce, as strangely uneven as its protagonist: When it works, it's oddly appealing. When it doesn't, it's like massive movie talons on a 70-foot high chalkboard.