Friday, February 12, 2010

"Valentine's Day" stale but a little fun with huge cast


Valentine's Day (2010)
125 min., rated PG-13. 
Grade: C



A new year calls for the ultimate rom-com in the style of six degrees of separation, a star-stuffed but overstuffed marzipan that gives its date-movie audience what it wants. Shameless schmaltz-meister Garry Marshall directs, er, juggles a wildly huge ensemble pastiche of huggable, attractive big names with a spoonful of sugar in "Valentine's Day," starring everyone in the industry that had a free day of shooting, except for Mr. Kitchen Sink. Who isn't in this movie? Like Paul Haggis' "Crash" with flowers and heart candies, the movie hopscotches around a sanitized L.A. on February 14th—a Christmas-sized holiday apparently in this world where everyone's in a tizzy—with a bouquet of crisscrossing stories. 

Take a deep breath. Reed (Ashton Kutcher) is a florist who pops the question to Morley (Jessica Alba); his best buddy, teacher Julia (Jennifer Garner), is in a relationship with philandering Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey); her friend Kara (Jessica Biel) is a “neurotic hot mess” agent who hates Valentine's Day but loves chocolate and may just find her real chocolate love in TV sports reporter Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx); her client is popular quarterback Sean Jackson (Eric “McSteamy” Dane) looking for love and a family; Queen Latifah's temp Liz (Anne Hathaway) has a budding relationship with her Midwestern boyfriend Jason (Topher Grace) but to pay off loans, she works as a phone-sex entertainer, speaking in fake Russian accents and snapping rubber band balls for bondage arousal. 

Phew, we're almost done. Holden (Bradley Cooper) and war soldier Kate (Julia Roberts), who's getting home for a day to see a guy, connect on a long plane flight; there's a surprising final whirl to both characters. An old couple (Shirley MacLaine, Hector Elizondo) discovers their 50-plus year marriage isn't as perfect as one of them thought, and they share a nicely sweet moment in front of a Hollywood Forever Cemetery drive-in showing of MacLaine's 1958 film "Hot Spell." Taylor Lautner and songbird Taylor Swift play a hot, vapid high school couple; Lautner gets an (intentional?) laugh when he says “I don't feel comfortable taking my shirt off in public” and Swift shows she's very comfortable playing a ditz. 

Moving right along . . . Carter Jenkins and Julia's niece, Emma Roberts, are another teen couple who contemplate having sex for the first time. And finally, a kid (Bryce Robinson) falls in love at an early age. Oh, and Kathy Bates gets all of two lines in, and George Lopez and Larry Miller walk off with the most laughs; sorry to forget you guys. 

As a sprawing mosaic of mostly intertwining love stories would require, "Valentine's Day" is episodic, but when one vignette begins to flail, it moves onto the next. Katherine Fugate should have literally cut a heart out of her script to trim the narrative flab and use only a few stories. Some work believably well (Hathaway & Grace, Cooper & Roberts, MacLaine & Elizondo), while others are clich├ęd and superficial. The problem with so much star power crammed into one movie is that some of the acting talent gets lost in the shuffle of this laundry list. Where's a traffic cop when you need one? 

Marshall does get likable performances out of his actors, but they might ham a little too often at the expense of lame material. Just think of the possibilities had they each been given more of a character to play, like the quality of Robert Altman's character-rich "Nashville." Also, why does Marshall use so many sloppy, unnecessary cutaways and rely on reaction shots? Cut to a remote control on a bed because it really advances the plot. Cut to a cute doggie so it will melt our hearts. Richard Curtis' "Love Actually" and last year's "He's Just Not That Into You" did intersecting stories about love with big stars more successfully, while this one is more gooey, fluffy, and manufactured. Overlong and vanilla, it has a handful of glibly fun, cute goodies to be watchable, and its cast is a tasty one. As long as you’re only looking for as much nourishment as a box of chocolates, "Valentine’s Day" is a frothy, pleasantly forgettable trifle. 

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