As gooey and lacking in protein as a chocolate holiday bonbon, “Valentine’s Day” plays like a feature-length commercial produced by the Friends of the Valentine Promotional Society. Almost every scene is larded by talk of flowers, gifts, cards, restaurants and other ways to spend gobs of money on a single day, all delivered by a raft of attractive stars or semi-stars rotated on and off by director Garry Marshall. Never was there a film more release date-targeted than this one, which only means that, once opening weekend is gone, so will be the audience.
A compendium of lovers found, lost and avenged on a day designed to make you feel bad if you don’t have anyone, this would rate high on any list of pictures featuring the greatest number of talented actors given the least interesting things to do, as well as the most gaping differential between the beauty of many of the performers and the way they’re made to look.
It would be interesting to know why the New Line Cinema titles now released by Warner Bros. invariably look worse than actual Warner Bros. productions; the sets seem cheaper, the lighting gaudier, the color processing worse, the soundtrack compendiums patchier. All this does no favors to the parade of beauties here, as Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Emma and Julia Roberts and Taylor Swift on the female side, and Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher and Taylor Lautner among the guys, have all been seen to better advantage elsewhere.
And that’s before they even open their mouths. Screenwriter Katherine Fugate had to have spent more time figuring out how to shuffle all the characters on and offscreen with a measure of balance and coherence than giving them anything amusing to say. Virtually all the women speak with the same snippy, frayed-nerves cadence, which most of the guys respond to with more bland agreeability — or, in a couple of cases, evasiveness — than imagination.
Only Hathaway gets a reprieve from the norm, playing a young woman who earns extra money providing “adult phone entertainment” in different accents. Tiresomely, however, her would-be b.f. (the underused Grace) is a Midwestern hick offended by the source of her needed income; the relationship could have been much funnier if, upon overhearing her lurid monologues, he got excited and aided and abetted her, or perhaps signed up for her services.
As it is, there is perhaps one surprise embedded in the extended romantic roundelay: Finding out her lover (Dempsey) is married, a betrayed woman (Garner) plots her revenge; a florist (Kutcher), through whose shop several of the characters pass, proposes to his g.f. (Alba), who may have mixed feelings; a neurotic publicist (Biel, who seems the least neurotic of actresses) guides her free-agent football star client (Dane) through a momentous press conference, at which a TV reporter (Foxx) plays a key role; a high school couple (Emma Roberts, Carter Jenkins) plot to lose their virginity over the lunch hour, while their classmates (Lautner, Swift) cavort on the playground; a fellow (Cooper) becomes intrigued by the identity of the person his airplane seatmate (an Army captain played by Julia Roberts) is traveling halfway around the world to see for one day; and a woman (Shirley MacLaine) ill-advisedly lets a long-hidden cat out of the bag as a Valentine’s Day gift to her husband.
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.
Marshall functions more as a benign host than as a disciplined director here, inviting his thesps to spend some profitable time at such scenic L.A. spots as the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the Bistro Gardens, Disney Hall, the Flower Mart, the dog park under the Hollywood sign, the Venice canals, Bob’s Big Boy and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where (as in real life) old movies are shown at night. The one in question here is the 1958 “Hot Spell,” in which the very young MacLaine is seen being romanced while the more mature version tries to reconcile with her hurt husband.