The Tao of Steve
2000, R, 90 min. Directed by Jenniphr Goodman. Starring Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, James “kimo” Wills, Ayelet Kaznelson, David Aaron Baker, Nina Jaroslaw, John Hines, Selby Craig.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 8, 2000
The Tao of Steve has been getting a lot of attention lately, most of it good, since it won the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Try as I might, though, I just can't seem to hurl my kudos with half the force of my film-press compatriots. There's the seed of a great film in Goodman's easygoing romantic comedy, but it's still just a seed, and not the full-grown comedy of male mores it aspires to be. It's the kind of film you feel like watching twice -- not because you found it that engaging to begin with, but because you didn't, and everyone else did. (And coming at the tail end of one of the most uninspired summer movie seasons in recent memory, hey, you've got time.) One of the best things about The Tao of Steve -- the best thing, really -- is Donal Logue. Logue has been popping up in film and television character roles for the better part of the Nineties (The Patriot, Blade). Here he plays Dex, a fat, vaguely misogynistic kindergarten teacher in Santa Fe who, despite his girth and subtly off-putting machismo, attracts women like no other. His poker buddies marvel at his abilities, especially the geeky Dave (Wills), whose incessant questioning leads to the mild revelation that Dex is a man with an agenda called Steve. Simply put, Dex, a former philosophy major once voted most likely to succeed, has constructed a new philosophy to snare the opposite sex. “The best thing you can be is a Steve,” he says. “Steve Austin, Steve McGarrett, and most importantly, Steve McQueen.” The opposite of a Steve is a Stu. Dave's a Stu, and when Dex starts teaching him how to enter the realm of Steve-hood, his gawky buddy reverses thrust and actually scores a date. Goodman's film is about Dex, though, and the blossoming, uncomfortable relationship he finds with Syd (Greer Goodman, the director's sister), a set decorator for the Santa Fe Opera who initially finds him repellent and then ends up placing him in the salad shooter of love. Poor Dex, it's all he can do to crawl out of bed and take a bong hit in the morning. As awful as it seems at first, The Tao of Steve is based on a real person -- Duncan North, who shares writing credit along with the Goodman sisters -- which has the curious effect of making you unsure whether you should laugh or cringe at Dex's antics. The Goodmans want you to chuckle, at the very least. One scene involving the overweight Dex wheezing his way up a mountain while on an ill-advised camping trip is pure physical comedy, but for the most part this battle of the sexes involves a series of tiny melees, and zero nose-smashing K.O.s. Is this sort of behavior from men an issue or not? Don't ask me -- I'm a guy -- but Goodman's middle-of-the-road film seems oddly undecided. I don't think I'm giving away anything when I tell you that love triumphs in the end. But The Tao of Steve, like Dex himself, initially promises so much more, and then delivers considerably less.