The skinny on turning from dud to manly stud

September 01, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN FILM CRITIC

Dex thinks he knows everything about women.

The fool.

For even if Dex is right (and the signs suggest he may be onto something), what will that knowledge get him?

The answer, according to this refreshingly smart and understated romantic comedy from first-time director Jenniphr Goodman, is a lot of dates, a good deal of sex and a big zero when it comes to relationships.

Ten years removed from his days as a Big Man on Campus, Dex (Donal Logue) has put on a few dozen pounds and gotten a job teaching kindergarten, but otherwise has changed little.

He still loves quoting Kierkegaard, hanging out with the guys (his former college classmates regard him as something of a philosopher-king) and treating women as objects to be conquered and collected, rather than to be won over and cherished.

Certainly, Dex is among the least-likely looking of lotharios, with his considerable paunch, his slovenly-at-best appearance (in Dex's world, shirttails are meant to be displayed, not tucked in) and his overriding clumsiness (the piece of furniture hasn't been invented that he can't stumble over).

Still, the guy is a babe magnet, thanks to set rules he's devised that are guaranteed to turn even the losingest of losers into a Steve.

You know, Steve McGarrett of "Hawaii Five-0," Steve Austin of "The Six Million Dollar Man," Steve McQueen of any number of unbearably cool movies - all guys who go through life seeming as if they just don't care, thus making them irresistible to women.(By the way, the opposite of a Steve is a Stu - sorry about that, all you otherwise upstanding Stus out there.)

The rules, Dex explains in a sort of world-weary, isn't-this-obvious to-everyone tone, are simple: You can't actually desire a woman.

Show her that you excel at something (Dex favors philosophizing). And you've got to walk away, so that she ends up pursuing you. And then, sit back and enjoy all the attention.

This is the Tao of Steve, Tao being a new-agey term for acting in harmony with one's environment or situation.

Do the Tao, understand the Tao, be at one with the Tao, Dex assures his over-eager friend Dave (Kimo Wills), and be a Stu no more.

Of course, there had to be something Dex overlooked, or this wouldn't be much of a movie. That something turns out to be a former classmate, Syd (Greer Goodman, who does a terrific job even if she is the director's sister), whose outdoorsy good looks, sparkling smile and piercing blue eyes seem impervious to Dex's rules.

Not surprisingly, Dex falls hard for Syd, who'd rather not bother.

NYU film school grad Jenniphr Goodman maintains an easygoing pace throughout that wonderfully serves "The Tao of Steve," eschewing grand, dramatic moments for small, intimate ones more befitting a film with an underachiever like Dex at its core.

She and her sister, Greer, collaborated on the screenplay with Duncan North, said to be the real-life inspiration for Dex. North, one suspects, had a lot to do with shaping his on-screen character, for as easy as it would be to paint Dex as a blithering idiot, no one does.

He's too easygoing, too oblivious to everyone outside his own little world, to elicit vivid emotions.

Credit also should go to Logue, who's come a long way from his days as MTV's obnoxiously chatty cabdriver, Jimmy McBride.

He and the filmmakers have created a welcome anomaly - a shallow hero you root for.

`The Tao of Steve'

Directed by Jenniphr Goodman

Starring Donal Logue and Greer Goodman

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R (Language, adult situations)

Running time 87 minutes

Sun score: ***

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