Sandra the 'Steve' Stalker
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
There's something about Mary Horowitz, the character Sandra Bullock plays in "All About Steve," and someone with access to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders could probably name exactly what it is. The untrained eye would call it Asperger's syndrome, although "All About Steve," a movie far less brave than its star, seems to be determined to reduce Mary's issues to cute eccentricities.
She's brilliant with words and facts and makes an extremely small living creating crossword puzzles for the (fictional) Sacramento Herald. She lives at home with her Jewish father (Howard Hesseman) and Catholic mother (Beth Grant). She's beautiful, trim and does justice to a pair of shiny red boots, but she cannot process social cues. Her interactions with the opposite sex are few and far between, for reasons that become obvious 30 seconds into her blind date with Steve (Bradley Cooper), the son of a family friend who she mounts in the front seat of his car while it is still parked in front of her parent's house.
"And now I'm going to eat you like a mountain lion," she announces. Steve looks alarmed, as he should, feigns a cell phone call commanding him to come to work -- he is a TV cameraman, who works for a CNN-like cable company that appears, improbably, to be based in Sacramento -- and extricates himself from her clutches. Mary, feeling the pressure to be more "normal" (i.e., married), interprets a casually off-hand remark he makes as an invitation to join him on the road, and begins to stalk him as he and his crew, blustery reporter Hartman (Thomas Haden Church) and their wrangler Angus (Ken Jeong) roam the country in pursuit of various breaking news stories.
There are decent comic moments to keep the movie afloat, thanks to a supporting cast that includes D.J. Qualls, the man to call whenever you need a cute weirdo. Jeong, who also starred in "The Hangover" with Cooper, is droll. Jason Jones of "The Daily Show" gets a few mild laughs as Hartman's main rival, and Cooper is rapidly ascending to the throne of self-centered movie dudes. "Oh, wow, this is all about me!" he says with boyish pleasure when he opens the Sacramento Herald to see that Mary has dedicated an entire crossword to him (it's called "All About Steve"). There's a beat, and then he repeats the line, but this time with dread.
Bullock produced the movie, and it's a shame she didn't give its director, Phil Traill, who hails from English TV, and writer, Kim Barker ("License to Wed"), some tough notes. The movie starts out looking like a broader version of "As Good As It Gets," aiming to do for Asperger's syndrome (or whatever it is Mary suffers from) what Jack Nicholson did for obsessive-compulsives. Mary is a real challenge, and if it weren't for Bullock's innate appeal, we'd quickly find her as much of a nuisance as Steve does. She's sad. We actually see her pick a Twinkie wrapper off the floor of Steve's truck and tuck it into her bra. She needs help of some sort, and a love interest is not going to fix her.
Then the movie chickens out. We're led to believe that Mary might actually take no for an answer, but Hartman intervenes and starts telling her Steve is just afraid of his feelings, and so on. He encourages her to pursue them from Oklahoma City to Galveston and then on to Colorado, where a group of hearing impaired children who have fallen down an old mine shaft provide the movie's dramatic climax. Hartman is egomaniacal, and Steve doesn't protect him from occasionally making a fool of himself on camera, but beyond that, there's no apparent motivation for him to toy with Mary, beyond plot convenience, of course. He's the thing that lets Mary -- and the movie -- off the crazy hook. It quickly devolves into one of those "what's normal anyway?" stories, and Bullock's dedication to the role is ultimately undermined.Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/ Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.