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A love story. More or less.
"Love is the only shocking act left on the planet."
Facts of the Case
Over the course of a single Valentine's Day, the lives of a wide variety of people played by a wide variety of movie stars will intersect in all sorts of supposedly interesting, supposedly funny, and supposedly romantic ways. These people will then supposedly learn all sorts of valuable lessons about love. Ahhh.
Have you seen Love Actually? If not, go out and rent it before you even think about approaching Valentine's Day. Love Actually was written and directed by Richard Curtis, who made a massive ensemble romantic comedy loaded with little stories because he had a lot of ideas for romantic comedies and wanted to get them all out there in one great big mushy lump. The result was a film filled to the brim with delights, as an expert cast delivered a number of charming tales of love. Valentine's Day blatantly rips off the idea, replacing the British cast with an American cast and transforming deep romantic longing into unconvincing greeting card sentiment.
The true test of an ensemble movie with an all-star cast is whether the story is actually more interesting than the initial pleasure of seeing all those familiar faces up on the screen. Sadly, Valentine's Day doesn't pass that test. The film does what it can to sustain our interest with its never-ending parade of stars, but all of the carefully interconnected subplots are bland, one-dimensional tales that feel tired before they even get started.
Ashton Kutcher (Spread) proposes to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four), but nobody seems to be happy about it because nobody thinks Kutcher and Alba are right for each other. Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3) is in a relationship with Anne Hathaway (Brokeback Mountain), but starts to have reservations when he finds out she moonlights as a phone sex specialist. Kutcher and Hathaway get sassy sidekicks played by George Lopez (The Spy Next Door) and Queen Latifah (Last Holiday), respectively. You get two horny teenagers (Taylor Lautner, Twilight and Taylor Swift) who want to make out all day long, and two horny teenagers (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew and Carter Jenkins, Aliens in the Attic) who want to lose their virginity with each other. Then you have the old couple (Hector Elizando, Raising Cane and Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment) trying to re-find that lost spark, plus the nice girl (Jennifer Garner, The Invention of Lying) who's unwittingly in a relationship with a cheating douche (Patrick Dempsey, Enchanted). Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Jessica Biel (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) play single people who aren't fond of Valentine's Day, but guess which two characters are unconvincingly shoved into each other's arms by the conclusion of this love-fest?
Most of the actors simply go through the motions, smiling, laughing, and crying on cue before collecting their paycheck and going home. Even the ones who seem to be putting some genuine effort into their performance (I'm looking at you, Jennifer Garner) have trouble overcoming the bland, generic nature of the script. The film opens by acknowledging that Valentine's Day is a complicated day for a lot of people…great if you're in a good relationship, awkward if you're in a shaky relationship, and either painful or irritating if you're not in a relationship at all. That's a good starting point, but the film disappointingly ensures that just about everyone finds romantic love and happiness by the final reel (except the cheating douche, who goes through the requisite routine of spending some alone time with his thoughts at the end of the movie).
I honestly expected a bit of romantic fluff like Valentine's Day to have some real polish and pop on Blu-ray, but the image is disappointingly flat and dull. The movie looks particularly lifeless, closer in terms of its visual palette to Marshall's subdued Frankie and Johnny (still the director's best film, for my money) than to most modern rom-coms. Unfortunately, this look does the movie no real favors; if ever a film called for glossy shine, it's this one. Detail is okay, blacks are deep, but shading is somewhat lacking. Meh. The audio is similarly serviceable, as the predictable array of pop songs ("I got a feeling…that tonight's gonna be a good night…") comes through well enough but never really gives your speaker a workout. Sound design is rather limited, as the track remains pretty dialogue-centric most of the time.
The supplements kick off with a genial yet bland commentary with director Garry Marshall, who seems far fonder of his film that most viewers will be. "The Stars Confess Their Valentine's Day Stories" (6 minutes) gives some of the cast members a chance to offer their opinion on the holiday, while "The Garry Factor" (5 minutes) gives those same cast members a chance to talk about what a wonderful and brilliant director Garry Marshall is (sigh). In addition, you get a music video featuring Jewel, some deleted scenes with optional Director Introductions, a 3-minute sneak peek at Sex and the City 2, plus a second disc containing a DVD Copy and Digital Copy of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In a film with this many stars and subplots, something has to stick, right? Sure enough, there were a couple of bits and pieces that I liked. One involves a professional football player (Eric Dane, Marley and Me) with a secret who is contemplating retirement. The other involves a man (Bradley Cooper, All About Steve) and a woman (Julia Roberts, Runaway Bride) sharing a 14-hour plane ride home. These subplots actually get less screen time than most, but they play out in an honest, touching manner.
Boring, conventional, and not terribly romantic or funny, Valentine's Day is a star-powered waste of time.
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