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(2009) (Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A nerdy, trivia-spewing crossword puzzle creator thinks a TV cameraman is interested in her and thus follows him around the country, much to his horror.
Mary Horowitz (SANDRA BULLOCK) creates weekly crossword puzzles for the Sacramento Herald but doesn't have any sort of personal life. The fact that she lives at home with her parents (BETH GRANT and HOWARD HESSMAN) while her place is fumigated certainly doesn't help matters, and she isn't looking forward to the blind date they've arranged for her.

That changes, however, when she sets eyes on Steve Gunders (BRADLEY COOPER), a cameraman for the CCN TV network who works with producer Angus (KEN JEONG) getting reporter Hartman Hughes (THOMAS HADEN CHURCH) on the air. Immediately smitten, she tries seducing him in the first minutes of their date, and while he's sort of into that, her non-stop talking and trivia dropping quickly changes his mind. Fortunately for him, an urgent work call means he has to leave, but not before saying something she takes out of context as meaning he's interested in her when he really isn't.

The next day, her crossword puzzle is all about him, resulting in her boss firing her. Yet, in her mind, that frees her up to join Steve on the road, and thus she sets off to find him as his team covers the latest breaking new stories for their boss, Danny (KEITH DAVID). After she barely misses them when a hostage situation is resolved, she follows them to another location where they're covering the news story of a girl born with three legs.

There, she meets a number of protestors, including Elizabeth (KATY MIXON) and Howard (DJ QUALLS), who want the girl to keep her limbs. When not the on air competing with rival reporter Vasquez (JASON JONES) for that and other stories, Hartman decides to mess with Mary by leading her on that Steve truly is into her, and that anything he says to the contrary is just him being insecure.

From that point on, and as they end up traveling around the country, Mary continues with her belief that she's meant to be with Steve, all as his horror of being stalked continues to grow.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
It doesn't seem that a month goes by without news of some celebrity filing a restraining order against some overzealous fan or, worse yet, a stalker who's become troublesome enough that the authorities have to be called in. Such obsessive behavior sometimes stems from violent thoughts (either directly targeted at said famous person or coming about in an indirect way), but usually is of the imagined best friend or lover variety.

After all, such people see the famous on TV or in the movies and thus segue from thinking they know them on a personal level to something more intimate. Although you usually hear about movie stars having such troubles with fans, I'd bet it happens just as much or more with on-air personalities who make the mistake of talking directly to as well as making eye contact with their viewers.

Such obsession isn't funny in real life, and while it has the potential in fiction, it certainly isn't humorous in "All About Steve," a purported comedy that will likely test the patience even of those who are diehard fans of one or more of the cast members that include Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper and Thomas Haden Church.

Granted, the stalking here isn't of the on-air TV figure (Church) but rather the cameraman (Cooper) who shoots him, but that distinction doesn't make any difference in terms of the laughs. As directed by Phil Traill from a script by Kim Barker, the film focuses on a nerdy crossword puzzle creator who, for reasons not remotely believable, quickly latches onto the TV techie, both figuratively and literally (the latter happening via a rapid, tear off the clothes seduction that she instigates in the first 5 minutes of their blind date).

The impromptu, in the truck tryst is aborted before completion, much to his joy as a job call diverts his path, but not before he makes the mistake of slightly leading her on. She takes that as a blanket invitation and thus chases him around the country from one news story to the next.

Where the film fails -- among many places -- is in trying to have its cake and eat it too. We're supposed to agree with the cameraman's horror that this woman is to be avoided at all costs (due to her endless babbling of trivia and overzealous and overwhelming glee, not to mention that pesky stalking). Yet, we're also supposed to sympathize with her character and hope for the best as the story unfolds and we get to know her beyond the histrionics.

Alas, that dichotomy simply doesn't work as the filmmakers fail to do much with either angle let alone balance the two into some sort of agreeable mix. The result is a pic that feels like it's all over the place, a reaction certainly not helped by the weak and certainly not original satire on current day TV news reporting, or the various subplot attempts at humor (a bunch of deaf kids falling into an old mine via a sinkhole, a girl born with three legs and the debate about whether to amputate one, etc.).

It's also as if the film began as a black comedy and then was tempered if not neutered by the romantic comedy elements that start taking over as the storyline progresses. Whether or not that occurred and/or was the result of Sandra Bullock headlining the effort is debatable, but her performance is one of the biggest trouble spots.

I like the actress in certain roles ("Speed," some of the romantic comedies) as she nearly always brings an agreeable and/or charming persona with her. And I can certainly appreciate such a performer wanting to do something different. Unfortunately, this was a bad choice resulting in an irritating rather than daffy performance that could undermine the goodwill she returned to her career with the recent "The Proposal."

Cooper can't do much with his most reactive (and horrified) role, while Church does the exaggerated TV field reporter thing, but can't deliver many laughs due to the lamely written material and dialogue. Ken Jeong thankfully tones down the hyper flamboyancy of his past roles, while DJ Qualls and Katy Mixon eventually show up and become the protagonist's road trip travel-mates, but similarly arrive sans laughs.

You know you're in trouble when even those who put together the trailer for a film can't make it look funny, and since this one looked fairly lame, I went in with very low expectations. Sadly, the overall effort doesn't even match those. About as funny as a real-life stalker, "All About Steve" is, however, just as annoying and irritating, and many a viewer will likely want to put a restraining order on it once it eventually starts playing over and over again on TV. It rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed September 1, 2009 / Posted September 4, 2009

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