Though critics thoroughly despise Valentine's Day, its release date and sheer volume of stars may guarantee box office success, making it the film equivalent of being jumped by a gang of Hollywood actors and having $10.50 stolen from your wallet.
Valentine's Day, which opens today, is a romantic comedy (one that's "neither romantic, nor remotely comedic") that is notable mainly for the absurd amount of A-list actors in its cast. It seems some Hollywood executive reasoned that if people liked Love Actually, which had about a dozen stars, a film with 24 recognizable actors must make twice as much money!
For some reason, Ashton Kutcher is given the most screen-time, and critics have a hard time even remembering the names of the other actors. Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times is one of the only reviewers who attempts to summarize the plot. She writes:
Here's the setup: Ashton loves Alba, while his best friend, Jennifer Garner, is in love with Patrick Dempsey, who lives in the same building as teenager Taylor Swift, who's in love with Taylor Lautner, who goes to the same high school as Emma Roberts, who's contemplating sex with boyfriend Carter Jenkins. Emma also baby-sits 10-year-old Bryce Robinson, who is sure he's found "the one," while his long-married grandparents Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine consider renewing their vows.
Stay with me here, we're not finished yet. Across town, Topher Grace... and Anne Hathaway are getting serious, Eric Dane's football career is suddenly in question, which means his agent Queen Latifah has issues, to say nothing of his publicist Jessica Biel, whose anti-Valentine's Day party is in jeopardy too. Meanwhile, local TV sportscaster Jamie Foxx is forced to spend the day reporting on romance thanks to his heartless boss Kathy Bates, when he really needs Biel to score him an interview with Dane. Flying high above all these entanglements are flirty seatmates Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts on a transatlantic, or should I say transromantic, flight bound for L.A., though considering the mess below who would want to land.
Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts, and Emma Roberts are singled out by several critics for turning in decent performances, while Jessica Biel is described as "intolerable" (although Salon praises her for having "long legs, a brilliant smile, and a form-fitting designer wardrobe," which "helped [the male reviewer] sit through Valentine's Day). Taylor Swift's scenes are one of the film's low points - according to Variety she, "seems entirely undirected" by Garry Marshall.
Though many reviews include elaborate metaphors comparing Valentine's Day to a "box of rancid heart-shaped chocolates," a few delve into some deeper analysis. Roger Ebert notes that despite a huge cast, the movie features no Asian actors, and Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, and George Lopez are all given stereotypical ethnic roles. NPR gives the film one of its only decent reviews, but critic Ella Taylor admits, "Valentine's Day stumps for teen abstinence and marrying your best friend, and warns that career women may end up alone."
Earlier today, Lindsay tried to spread that word that "Valentine's Day isn't actually the worst movie I've ever seen, because it's far too boring and forgettable." While the film's box office success may be inevitable, perhaps the best gift we can give our loved ones this weekend is warning them not to waste 125 minutes of their lives on such schlock.
Valentine's Day assembles a bouquet of blooming celebrity movie stars including Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, and Jamie Foxx, shuffles them in skits about love gone right and wrong, and hopes you won't notice that every skit is lame, every line of dialogue is stale, every joke falls flat, and every performance has been phoned in between text messages to agents blinking, ''SOS!'' Durable shlockmaster director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and the industrial team that welded the interlocking story pieces into a screenplay that could be translated into Na'Vi without losing nuance have done the impossible: They've made attractive stars boring, and reduced love relationships to the weight of a box of Altoids. (Word is, there are already studio plans to make a variation of this big-screen entertainment product on a theme of New Year's Eve. Think of the calendar possibilities.)
Ensemble movies are a Hollywood staple, but this one comes with a contemporary spin because every performer seems to have been tapped for a niche demographic, perhaps to reflect today's fractured entertainment world. There are two dreamy doctors from Grey's Anatomy (Mr. Dane and Patrick Dempsey) for fans of that series. The Twilight set can thrill to Mr. Lautner. Country-music lovers might be happy to know that Taylor Swift makes her first and quite possibly last big-screen appearance here. Maxim readers have two Jessicas, Alba (not bad) and Biel (not good), to pant after as well as Ms. Garner, who flashes her tight end. Movie lovers meanwhile can sigh at Ms. MacLaine and remember the good old glamorous days.
The absence of performers who hold the screen with beauty and the mystery of their personality partly accounts for why Valentine's Day comes across like bad television, specifically an extended (and interwined) episode of Love, American Style, the anthology show (1969-74) that paved the way for the ensemble likes of The Love Boat. Valentine's Day might have a more recognizable cast than an average episode of Love, American Style, but it's grim grim grim. This might not be the Titanic of romantic comedies (it's tugboat size), but it's a disaster: cynically made, barely directed, terribly written. But quick: there's still time to escape!
Some teen viewers may be drawn by the lure of the two Taylors, but their time onscreen together arguably reps the film's low point; Swift, especially, seems entirely undirected, as she jumps around, makes faces and jabbers on inanely. If she's to have a film career, she needs to find a skilled director to tamp her down and channel her obviously abundant energy.
Hathaway and Grace do at least have some physical chemistry, and her phone-sex scenes are the only hint, in this hearts-and-flowers universe, that someone somewhere is thinking about getting it on. Contemplating the romantic prospects of Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner, it's hard to summon up a sentiment beyond the one muttered by my viewing companion: "Fine, mush your boring faces together already." Valentine's Day, directed by the romantic-comedy veteran Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and written by Katherine Fugate, is firmly committed to the notion of economy of scale. What it lacks in charm, humor, and intelligence, it makes up for in sheer volume. Why settle for one high-schoolers-in-love subplot when you can cram in a second, starring Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner as adorable airheads who serve no apparent narrative function? Why rely on one female character to provide the klutzy physical comedy when you can have three (the highly capable Anne Hathaway, the just-competent Jennifer Garner, and the intolerable Jessica Biel)? Marshall's attempt to please every conceivable audience is like a 200-piece Whitman's sampler. What's the point of getting that much candy if you want to discard every piece after the first bite?
Valentine's Day largely relies on stale gender stereotypes and tired comedy routines that don't elicit much laughter. Still, a couple of performers manage to achieve moments of genuine humanity amid the scented-candle haze. Emma Roberts handles her role as a teen grappling with her sexuality with mostly convincing, understated grace. And her auntie Julia pops off some palpable sparks with Cooper.
There are a handful of other bright spots, none of them sunnier than Anne Hathaway's performance as Liz, a struggling receptionist cum phone-sex entrepreneur whose free-spirit ways may be too much for her brand-new Indiana-bred boyfriend (Topher Grace). Is it just me, or does Hathaway possess a remarkable ability to make a pat, stupid and underwritten character — and Liz is 3-for-3 — into the goofy, unjaded, moderately sexy little sister of Holly Golightly? And then there's Jessica Biel as Kara, who is both the second-rate publicist of a disgraced football star (Eric Dane) and also a romance-averse chocoholic who hosts an annual "I Hate Valentine's Day" dinner. Is Biel actually any good in the role? I'm not sure, but she's got long legs, a brilliant smile and a form-fitting designer wardrobe, and those things helped me sit through Valentine's Day rather than flee to some happier place, such as an Iranian prison.
Unlike more traditional romantic comedies with only a couple of crazy kids to root for, Valentine's Day is conceived in the new market-driven style of He's Just Not That Into You, with a bevy of bankable A- and B-listers dropped into a series of vignettes, a dash of dialogue, lightly tossed, and voilà, a rom-com for the text-messaging generation. The veteran Marshall has proved a quick study, serving up the pastiche with panache so the stars mostly shine, the story snippets mostly amuse and you'll barely notice all the empty spots where a plot used to be.
There's actually not even a whiff of desperation about Valentine's Day; the film skips along pleasantly, supremely confident in its own cuteness and utterly unapologetic about how shallow or contrived it might be... Even with all these characters buzzing about, Valentine's Day is mainly a movie structured around moments, a few of them genuinely funny or surprising but most of the Hallmark variety. As a result, we never grow particularly attached to any of these people, but we'd like them to at least have a nice day. Yes, that is the most banal sentiment available, but that's the kind of mood the movie puts you in.
Like Love Actually, it's all about relationships - good ones, new ones, flagging ones and would-be ones. But unlike Love Actually, it doesn't even attempt to present any truths or substantive observations about romance. Where Love Actually was charming and touching, Valentine's Day is forced and formulaic.
Valentine's Day is a date movie from hell. How did director Garry Marshall persuade a big name cast to stuff themselves into this box of rancid heart-shaped chocolates? I can hear him now on his cell to his Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts: "Look, kid, it's easy money. You don't have to work more than a day or two. There are so many big names in this thing the audience will forget if you suck in it." Some of us won't. What? You think these overpaid actors did it for their art. Or, my favorite feeble excuse for selling out, "I want to make people feel good in a feel bad world." Ah, people! There's nothing wrong with lifting spirits, except Valentine's Day has all the heart of a two-dollar-whore. Nothing in this cold-blooded exercise in comic calculation feels human.
There are about five shots of dogs, at least 20 times as many shots of flowers, and some of the worst acting by a child you'll see. All the pink on screen will inspire thoughts of carnations or Pepto Bismol. Greeting cards belch Otis Redding songs, and Swift drags a giant stuffed bear through all her scenes. For those who prefer their romantic comedy in bulk, this is a steal. But attention Costco shoppers: Quantity here runs a distant second to quality. Which is not to say there's no savings. This is many lousy movies for the price of one.
Marshall directs as if he's putting together dinner from whatever's in the fridge. He drags us around the usual L.A. tourist spots - a pinch of Venice here, a slice of downtown there (with comedian George Lopez doing the proletarian honors), then back to the swank Beverly Wilshire. He splashes gobs of pink and red on the production design, plonks an unabashedly literal score ("Amor") on the soundtrack and loses no opportunity to wedge in whatever gag line - "You know what Moorpark spells backward?" - has crossed his mind lately.And still I come to defend this indefensible movie, retro values and all. If Marshall is an unrepentant Tory on some issues - Valentine's Day stumps for teen abstinence and marrying your best friend, and warns that career women may end up alone - he is open-hearted and generously conciliatory on gay rights, and he implies quite casually that multi-culti coupling may be the surest way to dispose of racism.
Usually in formula pictures with this huge a cast, maybe one couple will be African American, one Latino and one Asian. No such luck. There are no Asians at all. The black characters include a goofy TV sports reporter (Jamie Foxx) and a wise agent (Queen Latifah). Lopez, a Mexican American, is relegated to the role of Kutcher's sidekick (i.e., the Tonto role). There are a lot of Indians in the movie, for instance at the next table in an Indian restaurant, revealing that when Indians are out to dinner, they act just like Indians in a movie comedy.
Valentine's Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it's more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.