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[whitespace] Greer Goodman, Donal Logue
Finally Licked: Slacker Dex (Donal Logue) realizes that the 'tao of Steve' doesn't work on Syd (Greer Goodman).

Hum-Drum Bum

A loafing oaf preaches macho nonsense in 'The Tao of Steve'

By Richard von Busack

IF ONLY EVERY MOVIE about a lackadaisical person wasn't so lackadaisically made. The Sundance hit The Tao of Steve stars an ingratiating loafer hero, Dex (Donal Logue), a courtly, overeducated tubby who drifts through an undemanding life in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Formerly the college stud, Dex put on the pounds with sloth and beer, but he still manages to lure in a few women ("By rights, I shouldn't get laid, but I do.")

One might fall for The Tao of Steve because of Logue's Dex rather than Jenniphr Goodman's sitcommy, undistinguished direction. As Dex juggles two girlfriends--one married--he slouches his way across patios that look like the pages of Sunset Magazine. It's an attractive, leisurely life, tempting us with visions of lots of time and lots of space, in a place where you can wear shorts year round and occasionally exert yourself to a game of Frisbee golf. (This movie ought to be the hit of all time in Santa Cruz.) Dex justifies his underachievement with religion. He was a philosophy major. The good old American slacker, he says, never gets as much respect as a Zen monk.

All of this is fine, but we see another side of Dex that contradicts the amiability: the suggestion that his religious beliefs are just a pose. What really interests him is putting up a front that keeps women in pursuit. "The tao of Steve," Dex calls it, meaning the way of the cool guy, such as Steve McQueen and Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O. In these guy-party sequences--like one in which Dex passes on this macho nonsense to his skinny poker playing buddy Dave (Kimo Wills)--The Tao of Steve loses charm at a drastic rate. What Dex says about inaction and cessation of desire is infrequently heard in the movies, and it's depressing to see this philosophy treated as just blather. It's made clear to us by director Goodman that what this overgrown boy needs is to settle down with a good woman. The woman in question is Syd (Greer Goodman, the director's sister, a wiry blonde on the lines of Lori Petty.) After some unplayably dopey camping-trip scenes, Syd suddenly pulls out of her hat the information that she's bailing out of New Mexico for New York. It's time for our hero to commit himself.

The Big Lebowski, the last noteworthy movie about an amiable bum, was so much more fun than The Tao of Steve because the burnout Lebowski was true to his vision of pure laziness, at much cost to himself. Thus, the Coen brothers treated Jeff Bridges' Lebowski serio-comically, like a mythic western hero. Of course, inaction offends a part of the audience that takes John Vernon's line from Animal House as a creed: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." And yet the thin, sober and smart end up in the grave as well. Laziness can be foolish, doomed romanticism--but foolish, doomed romanticism is a part of the life of the movies.

One quotable line from The Tao of Steve, when Dex has a guest in his bed: "Oh, what a lot of books you have," she comments. "The better to seduce you with." "What?!" "The better to deduce the truth with." It's the funniest moment in The Tao of Steve, and yet the line shows up the emptiness of what could have been one piquant movie.

The Tao of Steve (R; 88 min.) directed by Jenniphr Goodman, written by Jenniphr Goodman, Duncan North and Greer Goodman, photographed by Teodoro Maniaci and starring Donal Logue, Greer Goodman and Kimo Wills, opens Fri in Palo Alto at the Palo Alto Square; in San Jose at the Camera One.

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From the August 10-16, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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