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Before I begin, I should probably acknowledge that all that I understand about women, dating, relationships between men and women, and sex in general can comfortably be written on the the head of a pin with room left over for a whole passel of angels to dance upon.  So my comments on a film whose main concern is the "Merry War" (Orwell's felicitous phrase) between men and women should be taken with an even larger grain of salt than usual.

At any rate, in a film which sisters Jenniphr and Greer Goodman based on a friend (co-writer Duncan North), Donal Logue plays a slovenly, bong loving, philosophy major, who, now ten years out of college, is a kindergarten-teaching sybarite, whose improbable continued success at bedding women, including a friend's wife, makes him the philosopher king of his group of housemates and hangers-on.  As such he expounds upon his method for hooking up with babes, a series of shallow, though amusing, maxims that he's dressed up as "The Tao of Steve".  Named for a group of ultracool guys from the 70s--Steve McGarrett (of Hawaii Five-O), Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man), and the ultimate Steve, Steve McQueen--the Tao boils down to three rules to follow when pursuing women :

    (1)    Eliminate your desire.  (Which basically suggests that you pretend you aren't trying to get
            your hood waxed.)

    (2)    Do something excellent in your target's presence.    (Typically this might include playing pool
            in a barroom setting, but in Dex's case consists of showing off intellectually and being good
            with the kids he teaches.)

    (3)    and, Retreat.  (Prior generations would have called this "playing hard to get.")

God only knows, if even He does, what makes certain men successful with women, but one thing is reasonably certain : it isn't the Tao of Steve.  Instead, as both the time that Dex put into developing his theories and his obsession with sex tend to prove, it's really just a matter of effort and willingness.  Persistence, to the exclusion of pride and decency, and the acceptance, of whatever's offered, those are the real keys.  Dex, though he is charming in a roguish kind of way (in what should by all rights be a star-making turn by Logue), resembles the babe hounds we all know, or knew, in just that one way; for all his talk of desirelessness and retreat, he works really hard at scamming babes, to the point where he doesn't really have time for much else.

That is until he meets Syd, a pretty, blonde, stage set designer, at their 10th college reunion and she proves maddeningly immune to his charms.  At one point when he starts pontificating about Don Juan, she says  that he :

    ...slept with thousands of women because he was afraid that he would never be loved by one.

In his increasingly desperate pursuit of her, Dex pretty much ignores all of his own rules--his desire is manifest; he humiliates himself on a camping trip and gets beaten up by the cuckolded husband; and he is omnipresent--but still, inevitably, gets the girl.  Holding her however proves to be far more difficult, particularly when she finds out about the Tao, and Dex is forced to choose between an adult relationship with a woman he loves, or a continuation of his rather infantile existence.  You'll not have difficulty guessing which he chooses.

All of this is exactly as predictable as it sounds in the retelling, but it somehow works.  The film has a few things going for it.  First, the script is intelligent and frequently funny, not in a pretentious and intellectual way, but in the manner of late night conversation around a beer tap.  It may not hold together too well when exposed to the light of day, but it's amusing while it lasts.  Second, there's Donal Logue.  Dex is so cretinous that it is impossible to like him all of the time, or even much of the time, but Logue is so charming that it's equally hard to truly dislike him.  Lurking beneath the layers of fat, the clouds of pot, the erudite facade, and the saccharine exterior, we sense there's a worthwhile fellow trapped within his own immaturity and selfishness.  Third, the New Mexico setting and the excellent soundtrack help to give the film a strong and unusual identity, a distinctness that the somewhat overfamiliar story does not have.

Finally though, what makes the film stand out is something that probably shouldn't, that it requires its main character to become a better person.  The blockbusterization of Hollywood--which has largely substituted action and special effects for plot, dialogue, and character development--and the chicness of the independent industry--which has elevated snappy dialogue and sensational plots over all else--and the blanket of political correctness which has descended over both, have brought us to the point where the rarest of all things in the movies is a traditional moral tale like this one.  How old-fashioned to offer us a movie where a smart but smarmy ladies man is transformed by the love of a good woman--it sounds more like a Rock Hudson/Doris Day vehicle than a Sundance entry, doesn't it?

One social phenomenon that you'd like to think started beforehand but which has at least accelerated since the events of September 11th is the search for entertainment that's actually about something.  The next time you're in the video store, and the concept of watching the latest explosion fest or inane comedy is unimaginable, try to find The Tao of Steve, it's well worth your effort.

(Reviewed:29-Oct-01)

Grade: (B-)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : The Tao of Steve (2000) (Imdb.com)
    -FILM SITE : The Tao of Steve (Sony Pictures)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Jenniphr Goodman (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Greer Goodman (Imdb.com)
    -PROFILE : Heavy Petting : In her debut film, The Tao of Steve, writer-director Jenniphr Goodman proves that a fat man is good to find. (DEREK DE KOFF, New York)
    -INTERVIEW: The Goodman Sisters' "Tao of Steve" (Beth Pinsker, Indie Wire)
    -ESSAY : The Myth of Chick Flicks (A.G. Basoli, Movie Maker)
    -ESSAY : The Zen of the Tao of Steve (Jason Silverman, June 2000, The Santa Fean)
    -PROFILE : Romance with a Beer Gut Or, why chicks learn to love all things Steve Ý(Scott Kelton Jones, Dallas Observer)
    -INTERVIEW : Tao of Donal : With a promising career, a new family and an unusual name, Logue
fights perception (INTERVIEW BY RODGER PILLE , City Beat)
    -ESSAY : When the Moral Stakes Are Too Low (Terry Teachout, February 2001, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (ELVIS MITCHELL, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Michael Elliott, Movie Parable)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (John D. Spalding, BeliefNet)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (KEVIN THOMAS, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (WILLIAM ARNOLD, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (David Sterritt, The Christian Science Monitor)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (LIZ BRAUN, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Alexander Walker, This is London)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Bob Longino, Cox News Service)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Jeff Stark, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Alicia Potter, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Todd R. Ramlow, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Mac Slocum, Flak)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Jessica Winter, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Jack Purdy , Baltimore City Paper)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (JULIE MICKENS , Pittsburgh City Paper)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Gary Mairs, Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Mike R Fardy, Ink 19)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (James DiGiovanna, Tucson Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (GREGORY WEINKAUF, New Times LA)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Dale Dobson, Digitally Obsessed)
    -REVIEW : of Tao of Steve (Mike Spring, DVD Angle)
    -REVIEWS : of Tao of Steve (Rotten Tomatoes)

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