A film review by Craig J. Koban May 26, 2010



2010, PG-13, 124 mins.


Morley: Jessica Alba / Kara: Jessica Biel / Holden: Bradley Cooper / Sean: Eric Dane / Harrison: Patrick Dempsey / Kelvin: Jamie Foxx / Julia: Jennifer Garner / Jason: Topher Grace / Liz: Anne Hathaway / Reed: Ashton Kutcher / Paula: Queen Latifah / Willy: Taylor Lautner / Alphonso: George Lopez / Estelle: Shirley MacLaine / Kate: Julia Roberts / Felicia: Taylor Swift

Directed by Garry Marshall / Written by Katherine Fugate

VALENTINE’S DAY is not a movie; it’s one big mass marketed product and a pretentious parade of very famous movies stars that look very hungry for a mighty paycheck.    

Some of the actors here are very good, some not-so-good, but they all nonetheless seem to wander in and out of a romantic comedy that is all but void of romance and laughs, which, call me crazy, are two of the hallmarks of most successful romcoms.  I counted four Oscar winners, one former TWILIGHT teen heartthrob, the niece of one Oscar winner, a pop star turned wanna-be actress, two Jessicas and one Queen.  They all try to make themselves look like their invested in their respective personas in a script provided by a woman that used to pen XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episodes for TV.  Even worse?  VALENTINE’S DAY runs at the abortively longwinded running time of 124 minutes, which is about 25-30 minutes of unendurable torture too long. 

Aside from the film’s limitlessly attractive cast (it’s only noteworthy merit), the film represents a new low for director Garry Marshall as he has never as sluggishly phoned a film in as he does here.  He takes Katherine Fugate’s massively overwrought and bloated screenplay and covers love and relationships at their most sanctimoniously cornball and repulsively sugar sweet.  The film tells a collection mini-stories involving people from Los Angeles during, yes, one February 14 and as the excruciatingly tedious story progresses we eventually see how certain character either know each other or are connected to each other in ways that I could only describe as being dubiously convenient.   

While watching VALENTINE’S DAY I was frequently reminded of an infinitely superior romcom, Richard Curtis’ LOVE ACTUALLY, equally long and equally dense, but so much more fulfilling for the way it created individual story arcs and character that the audience grew to have a rooting interest in.  There is not one character all throughout VALENTINE’S DAY that feels substantive or compelling; the actors here are just wooden puppets to the mechanical nature of the cliché-riddled script.  And…man…are there ever a lot of dime-a-dozen clichés here: There are, for example, the girl who falls for a married man but does not know he is married; the girl’s male BFF that knows the guy is married and wants to tell her, but is afraid to because it will break here heart; two people that meet on board an airplane and strike up an instant rapport with the promise of something more; the elderly couple that, despite a life of happiness together, are dealt a blow that makes one doubt the foundations of their marriage; the fifth grader who develops a serious crush…and blah, blah, blah.   

Are we bored yet?  I will persevere and try to discern the overall story as succinctly as possible, so bare with me.  The first vignette concerns Reed (Ashton Kutcher, a blank slate) proposing to Morley (Jessica Alba, a blanker blank slate).  He seems convinced that she’s game, but she has cold feet.  Related to this story arc is Kutcher’s relationship to his best friend in the whole world, Julia (Jennifer Garner, radiant and feisty, but with a character on auto-pilot), who has shacked up with a rich doctor Harrison (Patrick Dempsey), who is in fact married, but she does not know that.  When Harrison comes to Reed’s flower shop on Valentine's Day to buy flowers for both his wife and Julia, Reed becomes troubled with whether or not to tell Julia the truth.  Maybe he can’t because it would kill her, but maybe he can’t because it would bring up his own subverted romantic feelings he has towards her. 

Still with me?  Good.   

Julia is a grade school teacher and one of her fifth graders is dealing with his own love of a girl that remains a secret throughout most of the film.  The child is living with his grandparents (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine) that – after a startling admission by one party of infidelity decades ago – have reached a marital impasse.  Elizondo’s grandfather tries to deal with his troubled feelings about his damaged marriage by assisting his grandson to successful navigate the tricky waters of wooing the girl of his dreams. 

Next…we have a TV sports reporter, Kelvin (Jamie Foxx, a great actor that seems to make career misfires as of late) that has been dragged into doing Valentine’s Day coverage for his producer (Kathy Bates).  He seems more compelled to cover the story of a pro football quarterback (Eric Dane) that is dealing with not only the prospect of an early retirement, but also the notion that he appears - gasp! - to all alone in the world.  The athlete’s agent is Kara (Jessica Biel) who, despite being tremendously easy on the eyes, has had absolutely no luck with men.  This particular subplot of the film is clearly science fiction based.


Next…and I’ll try to wrap this up as quickly as possible…we have a phone sex worker named Liz (no, really…played by Anne Hathaway) that is desperately trying to keep her job a secret from her new boyfriend, Jason (Topher Grace).  Next we have the two “Taylors”, Swift and Laughter, who play high school students that seem madly in love with one another, but Swift’s friend (Emma Roberts, niece to Julia) is having difficulty procuring a time and a place where she and her boyfriend can consummate their relationship and end her virginity.  Lastly (thank God!) we have an Army Captain (played by the film’s other Roberts, Julia) that is on a plane sharing the company of a rich and handsome business executive (Bradley Cooper).  Sparks seem to fly…or will they simmer to something more?

I got a migraine headache just thinking about all of these dumb subplots, and one of the damning sins that VALENTINE’S DAY commits is that it never makes one of them worthy of our curiosity.  That, and far too much of the time it dishes out characters that strain credulity more than they should, often to headshaking disbelief.  For example, Hathaway plays poetry major with a 100K-student loan that moonlights as an adult phone sex worker to help pay her debt off.  Yup.  Right.  Sure.  This gives the film far too many scenes of Hathaway embarrassingly engaging in dirty talk on the phone with a Russian accent to get cheap laughs.  Then there is the whopper of Jessica Biel’s lonely and unstable publicist.  To look at Biel is to behold a woman that is unattainable attractive, but in the fantasy la-la land of VALENTINE’S DAY she has absolutely no luck with men being interested in her.  As a result, she throws yearly “I hate Valentine’s Day” parties, which I don’t think on any normal level of human existence are thrown by hot woman…ever.  And…for cryin' out loud…don’t even get me started on the football player who reveals a secret about himself that never once feels anything but phony and manipulative.   

Hmmm…the romantic tension in the film is so…uh…not there.  Gee, I wonder if the publicist will hook up with the hunky sports reporter?  Wow, I also wonder whether the florist will be able to convince his friend that her lover is a lecherous adulterer?  Man, if he succeeds in that, will he also be able to learn to deal with his desire to be with here too?  Yikes, will the young fifth grader find his true love as well?  Lastly, will the Army captain and the hunky businessman hook up when their plane lands?   

Okay…maybe I am being a jerk her for being so sarcastic, but romcoms as monotonously dull and prosaic as VALENTINE’S DAY really invite it with welcome arms.  The manner that the film haphazardly bounces in and out of each recurring vignette shows no attention to coherences and focus, not to mention that the way some of them unavoidably coalesce with one another is beyond trite (one final reveal showing how the football player is related to another key character takes shameful convenience to a whole other disbelieving level).  Even if the screenplay is lackluster and on pure cornball mode, you would think that the spirited guffaws and the buoyant performances would keep everything afloat.  Sadly, there is not one joke or sight gag here that works beyond the level of an insipid sitcom, nor are any of the actors here sincerely embodying their respective roles.  There are, as stated, many decent and beautiful performers here, but they all, more or less, looked bored out of their minds.  It’s truly sad when a bad film likes this makes elegant stars look dour and indifferent.    

I know…I know…this film is called VALENTINE’S DAY and it was released, yup, on Valentine’s Day of this year, so the only reason for its existence is to make some sweet and quick box office loot to bank in on the ultimate Hallmark Card day.  On that level, congratulations need to be giving here, because VALENTINE’S DAY is a slickly packaged and swiftly advertised event/date film.  However, is it too much for me to ask that VALENTINE’S DAY at least make use of the laundry list of talent on board here to…I dunno…do something sly to perhaps subvert the very tired romcom genre conventions that it feels so devoted to?  Clearly, everyone on board here is on coast mode instead of making something transcending and original, and the results show.  It’s also worth noting that this is the second romcom of 2010 – after WHEN IN ROME – where it's first laugh does not come until well into the film's running time and is the direct result of a funny cell phone ring tone.  You know you are in trouble when inanimate objects get more chuckles than the human beings.

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