Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Tao of Steve (2000)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - What Makes This Man So Irresistible?

"Steve" is the prototypical cool guy, a Steve McQueen, a man who has the ability to attract woman effortlessly. It's the code by which Dex, an oversized kindergarten teacher with a very effective way with women, lives. Dex is self-indulgence personified, until he meets someone who doesn't respond to his technique and uncovers a person who still may be able to grow up.

Director: Jenniphr Goodman
Cast: Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, Kimo Wills, Ayelet Kaznelson, Nina Jaroslaw
DVD: Widescreen 1/85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 28 chapters; Rated R; 87min.; $24.95; street date 3/20/01.
Supplements: Cast and Crew Audio Commentary; Theatrical Trailers; Talent Files.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Joe Delia

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B+/C

For me, The Tao of Steve reinforced the Mystical Aura of the Indie. Low-budget, independent films such as Tao - which never appeared on more than 189 screens in the US - seem to have a cool mystique about them, and they are often regarded as more hip and innovative than traditional studio fare.

However, as I watched Tao I realized that this really isn’t the truth much of the time. Indie films use the same hackneyed stories and conventions found in many bigger releases. The main difference is that the indie flick will always offer some sort of minor twist.

Tao demonstrates this perfectly. The movie tells the story of Dex (Donal Logue), a fat lothario in his early thirties. It starts at his college’s 10-year reunion, where we quickly learn that a) Dex used to be thin and hot and a stud, and b) he hasn’t done jack since college other than eat and continue to bag lots of babes.

The latter aspect seems mysterious, as it makes little sense that a tub like Dex can nail so many good-looking women. His appeal is explained by the title’s theory; act cool and like you don’t want to have sex and women will be unable to resist you.

Dex has lived this physically-gratifying lifestyle for many years, but inevitably he meets Syd (Greer Goodman), a woman who a) seems less than fascinated by his shtick, and b) makes him more interested than anyone else to date. Not surprisingly, Dex slowly starts to understand how shallow his life has been, and he finally longs to grow up and be in a monogamous relationship.

This ain’t exactly an original plot. Guy reconsiders his womanizing ways after he meets “the one”. Guy and “the one” don’t hit it off immediately, and they maintain a mildly antagonistic relationship. We’ve seen this kind of material a million times.

So how does Tao maintain its indie credibility with such a hackneyed tale? By making Dex so fat. That’s it - the lead character’s obesity is the only thing that makes Tao different than something such as What Women Want. By the way, the latter is film on whose success the DVD’s producers clearly want to capitalize, since the cover’s punchline reads “This guy knows what women really want!”

That’s a fairly tacky allusion to a much more successful flick, and it punctuates the lack of creativity found in Tao. Even the vaunted philosophy from the title seems tired and old; how many times have we heard that women want what they apparently can’t have? As a man, I can’t say if that’s really true or not, but this idea has been bandied about for years, and all Tao does is wrap the concept up in a slightly-different package.

Not that Tao is a bad film, as it offers a mildly entertaining piece. I like Logue as an actor, though I honestly thought he lacked the natural charisma to play Dex. This is a guy who can still score at will despite his weight, and make no mistake about it: Dex is huge. He isn’t “Hollywood fat”, which means a little chubby; he’s a freakin’ balloon!

The back-cover of the DVD states that Logue won a “Special Jury Prize” at Sundance for “Outstanding Performance”. I believe he took him this trophy for one reason: his willingness to gain oodles of weight. I don’t think Logue has ever been buff, but he certainly doesn’t usually carry this much extra tonnage. Critics love to see actors gain a lot of weight for roles because it shows their commitment to the part.

And that’s all it demonstrates here. Make Dex thin and no one cares about this film. It’s competently executed but it lacks any real flair or anything that would make it stand out amidst a slew of similar romantic comedies. The Tao of Steve was a predictable and only mildly entertaining film that failed to do much for me.

The DVD:

The Tao of Steve appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the picture generally looked good, it occasionally betrayed its low-budget origins and presented a few minor concerns.

Sharpness usually seemed good. Most of the movie looked acceptably crisp and detailed. However, some vague softness interfered at times and the picture didn’t always appear as clear as it should have. Jagged edges didn’t crop up, but I did see some shimmering due to shirts with thin stripes.

Print flaws were surprisingly heavy for such a recent film. Throughout the movie, I detected occasional examples of grain, grit, speckles, nicks, and various other kinds of small debris. At no time did I feel that these defects looked overwhelming, but they nonetheless seemed too persistent and frequent.

Colors appeared generally attractive but they occasionally looked too heavy. Much of the film has a greenish tone that could be somewhat ponderous at times, and hues sometimes seemed a little runny. For the most part, they appeared adequately accurate, but the saturation levels seemed too high at times. Black levels looked nicely deep and dark, but shadow detail occasionally came across as too opaque. This was mainly a problem during some nighttime scenes that used “day for night” photography; that style often makes low-light sequences seem excessively dark. As a whole, The Tao of Steve was very watchable, and it occasionally looked great, but a few issues lowered my overall grade to a “B”.

Also good but not exceptional was the film’s Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack. Actually, this mix provided a surprisingly involving affair. The forward soundstage seemed quite lively, as both music and effects presented an active environment. The front speakers featured good stereo imaging for the music, and effects were both well-localized and they moved from side to side cleanly.

The monaural surrounds kicked in a lot of solid reinforcement. Music especially benefited from this treatment, as the score and the various pop tunes became nicely engulfing, and some effects worked well in this format also. When necessary, different audio elements provided a good surround atmosphere that suited the material. Tao wasn’t a rock-em, sock-em flick that shook the walls, but the soundfield seemed very satisfying nonetheless.

Audio quality also appeared generally positive. Dialogue occasionally betrayed a little edginess, but for the most part speech sounded natural and distinct, with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic; they showed no signs of distortion, and they provided appropriate depth. Music worked especially well, as the score and the songs seemed nicely dynamic and accurate; highs were clear, and bass appeared fairly tight and rich. Ultimately, the soundtrack to The Tao of Steve showed that even a Dolby Surround mix for a low-budget, character-oriented comedy can still sound darned good.

The Tao of Steve includes a few supplements. The only major one is an audio commentary from director Jenniphr Goodman, actress Greer Goodman, actor Donal Logue, and writer Duncan North. All four were recorded simultaneously in one session for this screen-specific track. Such kinds of commentaries can be tough to organize; since so many people are gathered together, the piece can become messy and cacophonous.

That definitely was the case here, as Tao provides one of the more annoying commentaries I’ve heard. Actually, it’s not really the fault of all the participants; I lay the blame with Logue, who’s completely manic and obnoxious. He frequently interrupts the others for his often-inane remarks. If the guy was half as charming as he seems to think he is, Logue’d be completely wonderful. Unfortunately, he’s just grating.

Not that the others are terrific, though at least they attempt to offer some occasionally relevant statements. North has the most to provide, especially since the story is based on his life; he can fill in some details in that regard. However, he’s usually interrupted by more dopiness from Logue. This was a shame, as I’d always liked Logue, but his annoying attitude on this trying commentary made me much less keen on him.

In addition to this track, we get extremely basic “Talent Files” for Logue and director Goodman. Lastly, trailers for fellow Logue flicks Jerry Maguire and The Patriot round out the DVD. Note that although the back jacket states the DVD includes a “direct weblink featuring ‘The Steve Test’”, I found no evidence of this connection on the disc.

For me, The Tao of Steve was a major disappointment. I thought I’d find a charming and clever flick but instead got a very typical and smug romantic comedy. It relied on many of the genre’s conventions but added little to the form. The DVD provided mildly flawed but generally solid picture and good sound plus an insufferable audio commentary. Normally I recommend semi-clunkers only to fans of the actors, but in this case, I can’t even do that. My exposure to The Tao of Steve really made me start to dislike Donal Logue, so unless you want to feel the same way, I’d advise you skip this DVD.

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