Sandra Bullock stars in a bizarre wrong-com that plays like Rain Man scripted by the Farrelly Brothers. But that's not strictly a bad thing...
A journey through the 100 very worst films that line the bottom of the barrel of unimpeachable review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the benign critical overlord of all movie review websites.
#96 All About Steve (2009)
Directed by Phil Traill
Starring Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong
Bizarre, contrary and 10 years out of date, La Bullock welds the advanced mental illness of Me, Myself & Irene to There’s Something About Mary’s bent, stalker-ish chassis for a listing, lolloping wrong-com, the script of which would appear to have been transcribed from an under-the-gun game of Chinese Whispers.
First it’s a cutesy study of a gawky smalltown ditz, then it’s a first date rom-com, then there’s a heavy flirtation with raunchy sex comedy, then it swerves off into road movie territory, then it’s a searing critique on the moral vacuity of TV news reportage, now it becomes a cock-eyed abortion allegory, then – bear with us – a disaster movie, then a movie-of-the-week about some deaf kiddies trapped down a well, before emerging in the home stretch as a maudlin self-discovery weepie.
Sandy plays (There’s Something About) Mary Horowitz, a socially awkward-going-on-deeply disturbed cruciverbalist (look it up) who falls for hunky news cameraman Bradley Cooper. But when he quickly realises that she’s a few plutonium rods short of a functioning reactor, he fobs her off and makes haste for Splitsville. Undeterred, Mary pursues her new beau on a road trip that takes in three time zones, a full-blown twister, a volley of worrisome rape gags and about 15 distinctly different movie genres.
Why so bad?
Here’s the thing: it isn’t. Sure, it’s all over the dial, has more holes than a June bride and treats mental illness like a bouncy castle on which to launch some fairly icky comic situations, but when did any of those things hinder a comedy? And yes, with a different soundtrack and some choice editing it would play like a female Cape Fear, but aren’t we all for the queasy confrontational stylings of Larry David, Louis CK and Sarah Silverman these days?
Perhaps reviewers and cinemagoers weren’t quite ready for a sexually aggressive woman with a screw loose… in a comedy. That’s three different ‘character things’ to remember, which is usually two too many for a screwball laffer. Or perhaps Sandy had simply run out of good will. Actually, seeing as Steve was released scant months before her aggravating turn as that bleach-blond soccer-mom harridan in The Blind Side – a glutinous celluloid Hallmark card described in these pages as ‘basking in its own stench of superiority like a thick smog of red, white and blue’ – perhaps she deserved a good, hard preemptive mauling.
Shame this loopy treat was the backward baby that got chucked out with the bathwater.
What does it want to be?
All things to all men. Pitched somewhere between a Rain Man scripted by the Farrelly Brothers and directed by Lars von Trier, David Fincher’s take on Raising Arizona and a Muppet version of Paris, Texas, it certainly covers more than a few bases. And all this before a harsh left turn pitches Sandy down a mineshaft with a cluster of deaf rugrats* and the film closes out riffing on Billy Wilder’s none-more-cynical 1951 never-shredder Ace in the Hole.
*A sign of the level of willful perversion on show here is that their aural disadvantagement plays no part in the plot whatsoever – it’s just another fart in the trifle.
Full disclosure: Tomato Soup has a soft spot for Bullock. We wouldn’t, say, want to go for tea, or into a polling booth with her, but she is a talented comedian and an engaging screen presence. Bradley Cooper is on fine form here too, mixing it up with a performance that came before he realised which buttons he needed to press in order to start coasting. And yes, he does get his shirt off – a contractual demand on his part as much as that of his employers, you feel.
But the real star is Thomas Haden Church as granite-jawed, tikka-tinged newshound Hartman Hughes, who swaggers about spouting sexually-inflected alpha-male horseshit as if he’s wandered in from yet another movie altogether.
The Drinking Game
Like all loveable Hollywood mental-baskets, Mary’s a motor-mouthed walking encyclopedia with clean hair and one obvious physical signifier. In her case it’s a pair of kinky red PVC go-go boots that she wears at all times. Treat yourself to a mint julep every time they’re mentioned – often for no discernible reason – and you’ll be drunk off your ass well before the hour mark.
No way. Quite what this is doing on cinema’s eternal naughty step while The Hangover, Horrible Bosses and Jason Segel’s career exist and flourish is quite baffling. It takes a little getting used to, but like pesto, The Jesus & Mary Chain or cutting your own hair, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be all set.