Sandra Bullock veers from adorable kook to obnoxious nut in "All About Steve."
Sandra Bullock's bulletproof amiability enables her to walk away from some pretty wretched projects with her reputation intact. (Did we really need a second "Speed" or "Miss Congeniality"?) But her charm is put to the acid test in the insipid "All About Steve."
The film, a nice, sweet, family-style, boring romantic comedy, is yet another variation on the cliché of two people who drive each other crazy until they learn to love each other. Bullock plays one of her lovable klutz roles. This one is distinguishable from many earlier variations because 1) she doesn't laugh-snort, 2) she has gone shaggy caramel-blond and 3) she wears fire-engine red patent leather boots in every scene. But while Bullock is often cast as the kook you want to hug, here she is a nut you want to run away from.
Bullock plays Mary, whose age is not specified, but who is clearly too old to be living at home with her parents. Perky, friendly, yet lovelorn, Mary overshares with strangers, informing them that her parents have set her up on a blind date. (Plot-pushing dialogue is a trait of Kim Barker's lackluster script. Mary also has expository chats with her pet hamster.)
When she meets hunky cable news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper), she throws herself on him like a cougar on a lamb chop. After a single date -- well, not a date, really, more a slapstick wrestling match in the back of his SUV -- Mary concludes that they are destined to be together. She constructs crossword puzzles for a living, you see, so she finds connections between things where others see only random intersections. Her next crossword stumps her paper's readers because every clue relates to Steve's looks, likes and life.
Mary's ditzy enthusiasm about Steve inspires her to shadow him as he travels on assignment cross-country. She sees this as a kooky kind of courtship. He sees it as stalking. Thomas Haden Church, playing the prankster TV correspondent who partners with cameraman Steve, urges Mary to keep up her unrequited love quest just to give Steve a hard time.
As for the plot -- what plot? There are scenes of desperately unfunny shouting and falling down, and then it's over. Bullock works the comedy for all she's worth. She never walks when she can scamper, never waves when she can swing her arms like semaphores, never speaks when she can giggle.
The film is of two minds about her. It clearly believes that Mary's flaws are what make her special (a point driven home with sledgehammer subtlety in an exchange with an adorable deaf moppet). Then again, most of the other characters react to Mary as if she's from Mars.
Bullock's sunny grin and pep make her obsessive persistence slightly less creepy. Slightly. Mary chatters incessantly, but mainly in conversation-killing factoids about how iron is smelted and the location of Hitler's typewriter. She takes a bus trip to one of Steve's far-flung assignments and the other passengers cheer when she's left behind. You kind of understand how they feel.
And yet because Sandra Bullock is playing the character, you cringe a little when she's humiliated. There are a lot of scenes here where people look beyond Mary's off-putting behavior and realize she's terrific and accept her. On a rational level, I couldn't buy it. I disliked Mary, disliked the movie, disliked Bullock's preposterous performance. But such is the power of her charisma that I couldn't blame her. Instead I felt sad that she had missed an opportunity. She squandered my time and I felt sorry for her. That, my friends, is a star.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186