By the time the majestically unstable and unfunny "All About Steve" gets to a smudged, bleeding Sandra Bullock delivering a teary soliloquy next to a scared deaf girl in a mineshaft, you might assume a film this bonkers would head straight to the center of the Earth next. Or a moon made of cheese. Someplace woefully unreal, in other words.
Hollywood movies preaching nonconformity are rarely a winning proposition, and "All About Steve" is no exception: an eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too exercise that razzes oddballs to no end before nearly martyring its off-kilter heroine to guilt-trip the audience. Romantic comedy stalwart Bullock (last seen in the summer hit "The Proposal") stars as a proudly nerdy, trivia-spouting crossword puzzle creator whose social -- and sexually aggressive -- awkwardness sends handsome cable-news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) running for his life before their blind date has even begun.
Bullock's Mary Horowitz is nothing if not persistent though, which -- in one of an endless string of life-is-a-crossword-puzzle platitudes screenwriter Kim Barker thinks are spun gold -- she says is a good thing when it comes to deciphering clues. Armed with her red patent leather go-go boots, she cheerily stalks imagined boyfriend Steve from big story to big story across the country. (If you ever wanted to know what kind of movie plays deaf children falling into a sinkhole for laughs, look no further.)
Naturally, Steve is freaked out with each Mary sighting, which for the audience's benefit -- as if costar Cooper's arsenal of scared looks isn't enough -- is usually accompanied by "Jaws" or "Psycho" music-cue riffs. The situation is exacerbated by egotistical correspondent Hartman Hughes (the thankfully amusing Thomas Haden Church) gleefully feeding Mary's delusion about Steve at every turn.
Which is also what director Phil Traill does regarding Bullock's windup toy of a performance. A dippy clunker like "All About Steve" has no purpose other than as a challenge: If you laden a usually charming A-lister with a thoroughly off-putting, unhinged character, can she claw her way to likability? The short answer is no. The long answer is, what in the world was Bullock, who also produced the movie, thinking?
Puzzle aficionados may balk at their pastime being labeled a signpost for crazy, but "All About Steve" -- a screwball wannabe that leaves one begging for the comforting embrace of a professionally made sitcom -- can't get near a crossword's interlocking logic. Think the Jumble.
'All About Steve'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos
Running time: 1 hour,
Playing: In general release