The universal laws defined in religion and philosophy present lovely ideals, but they'll forever be damned by the chaos of the individual.
This problem plagues the rotund protagonist of "The Tao of Steve," (IMDb listing) a hip comedy that mixes pop culture's slacker appeal with the wisdom of ancient philosophers.
In the same vein as last spring's "High Fidelity," "Tao" focuses on a 30-ish guy named Dex (Donal Logue) who has the intelligence to do something significant with his life, but lacks the drive to follow through. "Doing stuff is overrated," is Dex's mantra, and to his credit he's a devout slacker. With a bulging belly and a predilection for books and bongs, he has little hope for career success and even dimmer prospects for romantic happiness -- or so you'd think. The catch is that Dex's ample heft doesn't interfere with his ladykilling. Just like Elvis, he's a chick magnet whether chiseled or chubby.
Dex's prowess with women garners him God-like status among his male friends. All listen intently as the portly lover explains his philosophy on feminine pursuitsomething he calls The Tao of Steveduring poker matches and low-impact Frisbee golf. The Tao of Steve, Dex explains at length, is a path to enlightenment that relies heavily on the coolness of American male icons. Characters like Steve Austin ("The Six Million Dollar Man"), Steve McGarrett ("Hawaii Five-O") and God himselfthe "real" Steve McQueenwooed women with their detached, rebellious allure. Dex contends that anyone, even a fat slob like himself, can use the same technique to impressive effect. The more "Steve"-like you are, Dex believes, the more life wraps itself around your little finger.
Of course, the universe has a way of smacking self-professed know-it-alls with metaphysical two-by-fours, and that's what happens to Dex when he runs into Syd (Greer Goodman) at his 10-year college reunion. Syd is both enamored and wary of Dex, allured by his intelligence but sensing his smoothness. Unlike the other women he's pursued, Syd challenges Dex, matching him philosophy reference for philosophy reference and unsettling his comfortable world. For much of the film the two spar and flirt in traditional fashion, which makes their inevitable coupling unsurprising. But allay your romantic comedy fears for this isn't "You've Got Mail" redux. Dex and Syd are geniune people who suffer and rejoice like the rest of us. It's this realness that makes their pairing particularly sweet.
"Tao" may very well be remembered as a film that vaulted a pair of relative unknowns into the collective consciousness. After bringing Dex to life, Logue certainly deserves to be a star. Lesser actors would have played Dex as an overintelligent blowhard, but Logue finds a tentative balance between Dex's good and bad, and the result is enthralling. Equally impressive is Goodman, who ingratiates herself to Dexand the audiencewith a subtle charm that relies on brains rather than saccharine sweetness. Goodman's co-writing credit may also signal the arrival of a strong screenwriter. With a little luck, she and sister Jenniphr ("Tao's" director) can plunge Nora and Delia Ephron into sister-scribe obscurity.
Unfortunately, "Tao's" minor release in art houses and independent theatres will limit its audience, which is a shame since this is one of the summer's few noteworthy films. But don't count "Tao" out, for it has descended from a long line of Steves and will surely rise to cult status when it's released on video. Screen size means nothing when you're Steve.
Filmfodder Grade: A