Valentine's Day -- Film Review
For fans of bonbons and Hallmark sentiment who wish Valentine's Day lasted forever, Garry Marshall's movie arrives like the answer to a prayer.
Taking its name from cupid's holiday with all the inspired creativity of a filing label, the film crisscrosses endlessly -- endlessly -- among a Whitman's sampler of cutouts passing as characters. Drawn by the starry cast and the film's built-in date-movie cachet, weekend moviegoers will send boxoffice love notes to the New Line release. But the affair is likely to be short-lived as the reality sets in that "Valentine's Day" is yet another Hollywood romantic comedy that's all but devoid of romance and laughs.
For the latter, audiences will have to wait for the obligatory end-credit outtakes. Until then, they've got the antics of a bunch of witless, good-looking Angelenos variously chasing or avoiding l'amour. At the center of the multistrand story are Reed (Ashton Kutcher) and his best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner). She's madly in love with a doctor (Patrick Dempsey) and more than a little surprised that florist Reed's career-gal girlfriend (Jessica Alba) has accepted his wedding proposal.
Popping the question on Valentine's Day, he believes, has given him license to be a "sappy cheeseball" for the next 24 hours. That seems to be the guiding principle of Katherine Fugate's script as well, which subs clunking punchlines for froth and snap and which spares almost no one in the ensemble from mouthing banalities about the ways of the heart. "It's Valentine's Day," Reed enthuses to Julia at one point. "You don't think; you just do."
Reed's flower shop serves as the hub for much of the action. Among those stopping in to order bouquets are a precocious fifth-grader (Bryce Robinson) and Julia's two-timing boyfriend. The latter event poses a quandary for Reed, which he hashes out with his right-hand man (George Lopez): Should he tell his best friend the truth about the good doctor? That's the closest the film gets to dramatic tension. Marshall's direction lends the material little in the way of momentum, and John Debney's score grows increasingly thick with schmaltz.
A couple of first kisses and a reunion that cap the film are sweet but hardly worth the long road through scuffles, realignments and rapprochements that precedes them. A local sportscaster (Jamie Foxx) bristles at the Valentine's Day fluff piece assigned to him by his producer (Kathy Bates, barely there); he'd rather be chasing down a story about a football star (Eric Dane) whose career is in question. The athlete's publicist (Jessica Biel) prepares for her annual I Hate Valentine's Day party, and his high-powered agent (Queen Latifah) puts up with a new receptionist (Anne Hathaway) who's off to a good romantic start with a fellow employee (Topher Grace) -- except for the secret she's keeping about her moonlighting as a phone-sex operator.
From Julia Roberts' Army captain finding a simpatico seatmate (Bradley Cooper) on her flight home, to the high school girl (Emma Roberts) who's openly scheduling a virginity-ending session with her boyfriend (Carter Jenkins), nobody rings true except as a movie contrivance. Music-biz It girl Taylor Swift makes her big-screen debut hamming it up as a ditz who's gushing with adoration for her jock boyfriend (Taylor Lautner), and a subplot involving Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo offers a bit of movie love, if little else, with fevered close-ups from MacLaine's 1958 "Hot Spell."
Foxx and Grace survive with their comic timing intact, and Garner's inherent geniality lends her role some charm. But this travelogue of Los Angeles landmarks, in which low-riders and Indian restaurants serve as "colorful" symbols of multiculturalism, is more valentine to the flower industry than a true love connection.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 12 (New Line Cinema)
Production: New Line Cinema presents a Wayne Rice/Karz Entertainment production
Cast: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Bryce Robinson, Taylor Swift, Larry Miller
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenwriter: Katherine Fugate
Story by: Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Samuel J. Brown, Michael Disco, Diana Pokorny, Josie Rosen
Producers: Mike Karz, Wayne Rice
Director of photography: Charles Minsky
Production designer: Albert Brenner
Music: John Debney
Costume designer: Gary Jones
Editor: Bruce Green
Rated PG-13, 123 minutes
Sundance: On the Scene