Sandra Bullock (“The Proposal”) and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”) have both been associated with hit comedies this summer, a thought they should cling to as reviews of “All About Steve” dribble in. Misfiring on every conceivable front, it’s that rarest of comedies — one whose stabs at humor fall painfully flat, while eliciting unintentional giggles every time the film seeks to be serious or deliver a message (which it actually does). Sitting through the pic is an endurance test, but its theatrical durability should be brief.
Although the title riffs on “All About Eve,” there’s nothing quite so grandiose about the movie, other than a climactic sequence that owes a debt to the 1951 movie “Ace in the Hole,” albeit at a deuces-and-treys level.
The one thing people might take away from the movie is that a crossword-puzzle constructor is a “cruciverbalist.” Holding that modest occupation is Bullock’s Mary Horowitz, who has a “Rain Man”-like grasp for useless information but not much of a social life, living with her parents while scratching out puzzles for a Sacramento newspaper.
Insulted by an elementary school class — just one example of cruelty that runs throughout the movie — Mary agrees to go on a blind date with Steve (Cooper), a cameraman for a fictional cable news network. She’s instantly smitten, so much so that she devotes an entire puzzle to him (hence the title), costing Mary her job but also freeing her to stalk Steve across the country from one idiotic news story to the next.
At that point, Steve’s blowhard correspondent, Hartman (Thomas Haden Church), gets involved, encouraging Mary to continue tailing them, as if Steve’s just playing hard to get. She cheerfully obliges, schlepping to Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado, where the stories include a three-legged baby, a brutal storm and finally a mine shaft cave-in.
Director Phil Traill (who has mostly worked in British TV) and writer Kim Barker (who penned another story of people failing to observe personal boundaries, the equally dismal “License to Wed”) appear to have concocted these episodes less to comment on cable news’ absurdity than to pad their slim, uncomfortable plot out to feature length.
Yet nothing here adds up, and although Bullock (who also produced) plays Mary as consistently annoying, there’s no rationalizing all the abuse heaped her way. Cooper’s character proves utterly bland, and Church’s take on the unctuous news guy makes you wonder if he’d rather jump back a couple of movies, transform into sand and quietly ooze away.
The audience, meanwhile, will be left to sit with mouths agape as the movie grinds toward its semblance of a conclusion, seeking to convey a “normal is in the eye of the beholder” lesson destined to trigger more guffaws than epiphanies.
Mary’s throughout-the-movie narration gushes about the joys of crosswords, and there’s a puzzle here, all right. But the only solution comes when two words (six letters) that mean “The movie’s over” finally appear onscreen.