Sandra Bullock plays eccentric crossword puzzle constructor Mary Horowitz who, after one short blind date, falls for handsome cable news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper). Convinced they are soul-mates, Mary follows Steve across the country, encouraged by the self-serving actions of news reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church). Along the way, Mary befriends an endearing group of oddballs who embrace her idiosyncrasies.

A most un-congenial comedy.

There is no sadder adjective for a Hollywood star attempting a career comeback than to be the 'miscast lead".

As a random example, consider Al Pacino in Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985). He was on a roll that included Norman Jewison’s ...And Justice For All (1979), William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) and Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) when the American Revolution saga enticed him into the role of Noo Yawk fur trapper Tom Dobb. Pacino played Dobb as if channelling a 1980’s NYC cabbie – the wrong actor in the wrong part, to be sure – and he didn’t work again for four years.

Sandra Bullock stages her own Revolution as first-time feature director Phil Traill’s heroine in the excruciatingly-misguided romantic comedy All About Steve. Hot off the surprise hit The Proposal, which itself broke a four-year drought post-2005’s Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous, Bullock could have re-established her A-list status and audience credibility with a) another well-chosen comedy, or b) an edgy indie drama (like she did in Paul Haggis’ ensembler, Crash). But All About Steve is a career nadir for all involved; Bullock can only hope nobody sees it, such is its threat to her box office momentum.

We first meet Bullock’s Mary Magdalene Horowitz on her way to work, where she reacts with delighted giggles at all the normal people who enjoy solving the crossword she produces weekly for The Sacramento Herald. At a school careers day the children chide her spinsterish existence, so she decides not to cancel the blind date her parents (Howard Hesseman and Beth Grant) have arranged for her. Her life changes when she meets news-cameraman Steve (the insufferably smarmy Bradley Cooper, himself hot after the sleeper smash The Hangover) – a man she immediately senses is her soul mate; so much so she sexually overpowers him as soon as they get to the car. It is the first of many uncomfortable scenes that simultaneously question Mary’s mental stability and deprive the film of any sense of reality.

Watching Bullock portray the nerdy, needy nebbish is the cinematic equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. She blathers incessantly about the meaning of words and their origins, channelling a bizarre mix of Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man (though she is never openly diagnosed with an affliction) and Anna Faris’ ditzy outcast in The House Bunny (though drained of all attractiveness, despite an obsession with short skirts and knee-high red leather boots).

Steve is called away on roving assignment with egotistical reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church, returning to his broad sitcom-style shtick) and producer Angus (Ken Jeong), but refuses to give him up easily. An opportunity to join him arises when she loses her job (after submitting a puzzle devoted entirely to her fantasy-man). Set against the coverage of such news-worthy stories as three-legged babies and deaf children in sinkholes, Mary’s journey of enpowerment is charted in the most ridiculous of circumstances. Imagine Mike Nicholl’s Working Girl (1988) produced by Mad magazine.

The film’s complete failure to engage on any level, much less comedic, lies entirely at the feet of Bullock – she produced the film under her Fortis Films banner. In All About Steve Bullock deconstructs the onscreen personality that has typified all of her success to date – the sweet, smart-mouth everygirl who deserves the guy but only gets him in the final reel (Speed, 1994), While You Were Sleeping, 1995), Practical Magic, 1998), the Miss Congeniality films and Two Weeks' Notice, 2002), and the results are disastrous. To miscast yourself is a cardinal sin; to produce one of the most laugh-free debacles to come out of the US in many years is unforgivable.


In Cinemas 22 October 2009,