Although it came out in 2000, The Tao of Steve is a ’90s movie at heart, and I imagine the director and screenwriters tried to make it for a long time, without updating anything. We meet Dex (Donal Logue, Zodiac), a chubby bearded guy in a Hawaiian shirt at his 10th college reunion. He’s a fat stoner slacker, predating the current run of stoner comedies, and an unlikely Lothario. How does Dex get laid so much? By using his philosophy of getting chicks, the Tao of Steve. We’ll explain that later. It doesn’t help the story that we’re introduced to him being shot down by Syd (Greer Goodman, who co-wrote), making his seductive powers seem like wishful thinking.
The movie rides on whaleback, on the character of Dex, played naturally by Logue. He’s a kindergarten teacher when he’s not toking, or playing frisbee golf, pool or poker with his slacker buddies. He’s got an endearing loser quality, and captures that laid back fat guy who wants to be liked archetype perfectly. He teaches the kids how to play poker. He’s about as believable a teacher as Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Kindergarten Cop, but he’s fun to watch. And that saves the film, because the rest of the characters aren’t great company, really.
Take Dave for example (played by now-unemployed Kimo Williams, Buffalo Soldiers). He’s the new dog in Dex’s slacker pack, and serves only to give him someone to explain his foolproof seductive philosophy to. So, what’s the Tao of Steve? First of all, a “Steve” is that cool guy who gets the girls without seemingly even trying. Like Steve McQueen, or Steve Austin, or Steve McGarrett. In case you forgot that Steve Austin was “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the slackers re-enact the opening credits of the show, and dumbo Dave says “oh yeah, the 6 million dollar man!” in case you still don’t get it. And if you don’t remember Steve McGarrett was Jack Lord’s character in “Hawaii Five-O,” they helpfully play the theme on the soundtrack while the guys drum it out on the poker table. Yeah, it’s one of those movies, like Reality Bites, which revels in its writers nostalgic glee and tries to force it down our throats. So how do you get to be a Steve?
1. Eliminate your desires. Very Buddhist. In other words, don’t be a horndog; duh.
2. Be excellent in their presence (and not like Bill & Ted). Show off effortlessly in some manner. Dex shows how good he is with kids, mostly.
3. Withdraw. Play hard to get.
#3 is further illustrated by the mantra that men & women both want sex, but gals want it 15 minutes after men, so “if you hold out for 20 she’ll be chasing you for 5.”
The closest thing resembling another character is Syd, who has been with Dex but he doesn’t remember it, being a stoner and all. He gets blindsided by her, probably because she’s from his past before he came up with his philosophy. He loses his cool around her. She begins unraveling the weakness behind his conquest mentality, the Casanova archetype. Every narcissist is hiding a core of self-loathing, and as the film succinctly puts it: “Don Juan slept with 1,000 women because he was afraid of being unloved by one.”
The revelations come on a very funny camping trip where Dex destroys his tent in a flailing attempt to kill a spider, and has to share tents with Syd, who warns him that if any part of him touches her, she has a knife. By the end of their trip, he’s lost his cool and finds that he doesn’t need the Tao to get with Syd, once she starts seeing the real him beneath the Steve. Being a rom-com, they have to have a break-up of sorts when dumbass Dave blurts out Dex’s seductive schemes, but you know they’ll get back together. The story handles this well, without being too cute.
The episodic romance is the weak point in between amusing bits where Logue builds the Dex character, based on co-writer Duncan North, a fat kindergarten teacher who banged a few of Jenniphr (spell your name right, for fuck’s sake) Goodman’s pals and related his game plan to her. Dex owes a lot to The Big Lebowski, another stoner slacker who liked to live in a bathrobe and would probably feed a dog whipped cream out of the spray can, too. There’s a lot of clever dialogue that doesn’t seem unnatural, and keeps a mild comedic energy throughout the film, but the movie is carried by this Falstaffian fatboy stoner character, spouting Taoist epiphanies and teaching young children to play poker.
As far as rom-coms go, it’s above average and has more to interest guys than most films of the genre, but it’s horribly dated by trying to jumpstart ’70s nostalgia, and has the same ’90s slacker feel of forgettable films like Reality Bites. After a little research, I found that the idea for the film came in the mid-90s and they began writing it in 1996, so that’s why it feels like a ’90s film. I think the only film of this type that is still watchable is Swingers, because while it does play into the short-lived swing dancing revival of the ’90s, its cultural references are less obnoxious and are done on a filmmaking level, as the director mimics the characters favorite film scenes instead of just throwing stuff on the soundtrack. The Tao of Steve is decent rom-com fare and like The Baxter, About a Boy and the ultimate male-oriented romantic comedy The Apartment, a guy can watch it with his girlfriend without wanting to claw his eyes out.