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Review: Not much to laugh about `All About Steve'

The Associated Press, Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 10:24am (PDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's bad enough that the usually enjoyable Sandra Bullock has found a way to star in not one but two flat romantic comedies this summer, between "The Proposal" in June and now "All About Steve." But what's truly baffling — disheartening, really — is the fact that this latest one was written by a woman.

Kim Barker came up with the script in which Bullock's character, a crossword puzzle writer named Mary Horowitz, is singularly annoying from the first moment we meet her. It's almost misogynistic, the lack of humanity Barker's script gives this woman.

Mary is a goofy, clingy, hyperactive chatterbox who bores people everywhere she goes with her arcane bits of trivia and long-winded anecdotes. She lives at home with her parents (Beth Grant and Howard Hesseman, who don't get much to do) and needs to be fixed up on a blind date to have even a remote chance at intimate contact with a man. The film affords her no sympathy for any of these traits.

When Mary finally meets handsome cable-news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper, all blue eyes and blinding teeth), she immediately throws herself at him. Then she misinterprets a comment he makes in the frenzy of scurrying away from her as an invitation to join him on the road covering breaking news, and ends up stalking him across the country. During her travels, she befriends another woman who isn't drawn with a whole lot of grace: a full-figured, big-haired simpleton who doesn't understand Mary's many big words but does carry delicious snacks as she hangs out wherever the TV cameras happen to be.

There is nothing about Mary that's even vaguely appealing, but the feature debut from director Phil Traill makes it obvious we're meant to find her endearing. This much is clear from the way he focuses on Mary's signature clothing item — a pair of shiny, knee-high red boots — early and often, a lazy shorthand to indicate this person is supposed to be quirky but lovable.

Each time Mary finds Steve, she jumps up and down like a little girl, then runs toward him and pummels him with affection. It's actually pretty frightening behavior. Steve, meanwhile, is an enigma, good-looking but bland. Ostensibly, that's the point — that he's more of a figment of Mary's idealism than anything else — but that doesn't make him a terribly compelling character, and it doesn't make effective use of Cooper's charisma.

Thomas Haden Church provides a couple of laughs as Steve's self-serious reporter — his absurdly melodramatic live shots are pretty funny — but his character is also cruel to Mary by stringing her along and inviting her to join them at each new destination. (The ubiquitous Ken Jeong plays the crew's exasperated field producer.) Meanwhile, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Luenell from "Borat" and Charlyne Yi go to waste in throwaway supporting roles.

Then, just when it seems "All About Steve" couldn't grow any more insufferable, it turns strangely sentimental, which allows Mary to make profound observations about life in the form of forced crossword-puzzle metaphors. Too bad the movie itself doesn't have a clue.

"All About Steve," a Fox 2000 release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content including innuendoes. Running time: 87 minutes. One star out of four.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.

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