Valentine's Day

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 02/12/10 11:00:00

"...Or you can just revisit "Love, Actually." Easily the better choice."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Not to be confused with last year’s remake of the 1981 slasher flick, "My Bloody Valentine 3D," or "Valentine," a justly forgotten slasher film released nine year ago, "Valentine’s Day" is a "Love, Actually"-style romantic comedy as generic and unmemorable as its many predecessors and, alas, its many successors to come. Released just in time for the most romantic of romantic weekends (at least greeting card companies, florists, and candy companies think so), "Valentine’s Day" is bound to bring in couples hoping for a visual and aural dose of romance before exiting the theater for colder (or warmer) climes, a bottle wine (or the alcohol of choice), dinner (at an expensive restaurant or at home), and otherwise engage in the hyped-up date night.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day, the latest film from romance-meister Garry Marshall (Raising Helen, The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride, Pretty Woman, Beaches, Overboard, The Flamingo Kid). Katherine Fugate’s screenplay (from a story written by Fugate, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein) interweaves seven or eight interconnected romantic stories, beginning with Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), the owner of a Los Angeles-based florist, Sienna Bouquet, and his girlfriend, the career-oriented girlfriend, Morley Clarkson (Jessica Alba). Reed proposes to Morley as she wakes up. She agrees, making Reed the most obnoxious man alive. Reed’s longtime friend and fellow florist, Alphonso (George Lopez), has his doubts about the engagement, voicing only timid objections.

Reed’s schoolteacher friend, Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner), wakes up after an eventful night at the condo owned by her doctor boyfriend, Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey). Harrison has a surgery scheduled later that day in San Francisco, so he can't spend Valentine's Day with her. Julia’s publicist friend, Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel), suggests Julia surprise Harrison. Kara’s client, Sean Jackson (Eric Dane), an NFL quarterback, ponders his next move as the end of his career approaches. Jackson's manager, Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah), hopes to negotiate a new contract with his team. A local sportscaster, Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx), angles to get a scoop from Sean, but the station manager, Susan (Kathy Bates), convinces him to do a Valentine’s Day-related puff piece.

Grace (Emma Roberts), a high-school senior, and her boyfriend, Alex (Carter Jenkins), attempt to squeeze in first-time sex during an early afternoon break. A high school athlete, Willy (Taylor Lautner), and Felicia (Taylor Swift), a ditzy blonde, let their hormones get the better of them. Edison (Bryce Robinson), one of Julia’s students, gives Reed his life savings to deliver 12 roses to his elementary school sweetheart. Edison lives with his grandparents, Edgar (Hector Elizondo) and Estelle (Shirley MacLaine). On a flight to Los Angeles, Holden (Bradley Cooper), a businessman, and Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts), a U.S. Army captain, exchange pleasantries that border on the romantic. And in the last story, Jason (Topher Grace), a mailroom clerk who works for Paula’s talent agency, romances a new secretary, Liz (Anne Hathaway) who moonlights as a phone sex operator.

Valentine’s Day closely resembles last year’s He’s Just Not Into You (incidentally Bradley Cooper appeared in both films) or 2003’s Love Actually (both did unsurprisingly well at the box office). Valentine’s Day got their start on television) mixing young, up-and-coming stars, with established stars, and older, former stars (or character actors). Eric Dane and Patrick Dempsey appear on Grey’s Anatomy; Jennifer Garner and Bradley Cooper appeared on Alias together; and Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher appeared on That ‘70s Show. That’s not all, of course. Jessica Biel got her start on Seventh Heaven, Carter Jenkins appeared in the short-lived NBC series Surface, and Hector Elizondo had a major role on Chicago Hope in the mid-90s.

Valentine’s Day tries to have a romance for every demographic. There’s old love, thirty-something love, twenty-something love, teen love (more like lust, but little difference when you’re a teenager), interracial love, and elementary school love (okay, more like a crush). And while the only non-Westerners are customers in an Indian restaurant, Latinos get the best-friend character (he’s already married and has several children). As for the actual content of the storylines, moviegoers can expect the usual assortment of heartbreaks, betrayals, disappointments, misunderstandings, coincidences, and “surprise” revelations. Character connections range from the casual to the tangential, from the actual (those “surprise” revelations) to the contrived, from the semi-substantial to the superfluous (e.g., the two Taylors storyline), but rarely (actually never) resonate on an emotional level.

Credit where credit is (partly) due: Garry Marshall doesn’t cut away when two characters move in close for an interracial kiss, the first in recent memory (at least in a mainstream Hollywood film). Unfortunately, Marshall loses his nerve when it comes to two men kissing. Rather than show even physical contact, Marshall fades to black (to avoid offending right-leaning members of "Valentine’s Day" audience). It shows an unsurprising lack of nerve, typical for a director who’s made a lucrative career helming unadventurous, mainstream fare.

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