A film review by Craig J. Koban May 26, 2010
2010, PG-13, 124 mins.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.