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Movie Review: Valentine's Day

Films opening this week:
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix
Valentine's Day - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix
The Wolfman - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix

Today’s gold star goes to the duo of Deborah Aquila and Mary Tricia Wood for their deal with the devil to compile a star-studded cast for the blatantly lackluster affair that is Valentine’s Day. I don’t know how they pulled it off—I’m sure the promise of a hefty payday for minimal work helped—but the name recognition on the poster and advertisements alone will go a long way in cementing the film’s number one status at the box office over it’s titular holiday weekend. The film itself, because of or despite the cast, is a flimsy, two-dimensional bore without any surprises or true expression of love, the emotion supposedly central to the tale. It tries its darnedest to be Love Actually Redux, but never comes close. While that British delight resonates in its ability to stay real and honest, Katherine Fugate’s script here is rife with clichés, beating us over the head with a sledgehammer and spoon-feeding us exactly what we’d guess a film like this would include. An overblown Hallmark card is all it becomes.

The biggest downfall lies in the number of plotlines needing to be resolved within a short two hours. There just isn’t enough time allotted to each character’s progression to do justice. Rather than watching people grow in and out of love, we see them in a sort of speed dating exercise of emotions over one day. But they're never given a chance to evolve, instead plugging along to the next page in the script. The foreshadowing is obvious; once each character comes into contact with the others, we can anticipate every coming story thread. Example: Julia Roberts’ Captain Kate Hazeltine spots Bradley Cooper’s love tells on their flight home, and the audience know these stereotypes like the back of our hands.

All the usual tropes are trotted out: the hopeless romantic guy on cloud nine after getting engaged; the older couple who’ve gone a half century together; the beautiful workaholic who, because of her loneliness, doesn’t realize she could have the pick of the litter; the friend diving head first into another relationship with a lying cheat. It is so monotonous in its unoriginality that the main characters never become more than cardboard cutouts going through the motions.

My mind wandered during pretty much every scene featuring either Jennifer Garner or Ashton Kutcher, as the script gave them absolutely nothing of merit to do. It's a shame, because Kutcher actually had a few really nice moments, especially with youngster Bryce Robinson. Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine ring hollow despite adequate performances. As for the third part of the main trio—if you can call them that—Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway aren’t bad. The writing might be pretty extreme in depicting him as a sheltered loser and her as a moonlighting phone sex operator, but their performances are the most innocently authentic in the film.

Besides these six actors, the rest of the cast have little screen time. I enjoyed the earnestness of Robinson, but the wise-beyond-his-years schtick quickly moves from cute to annoying; the role treads too closely to Thomas Sangster's in Love Actually. Taylor Swift is the epitome of obnoxious, and never in a good way. And Patrick Dempsey is laughing his way to the bank for doing absolutely nothing. Some of the bit parts have their moments, though; Jamie Foxx has a couple funny lines, Jessica Biel gets the insecure beauty right, George Lopez brings laughs and some much-needed heart, and the underrated Larry Miller is nice.

But the true shining moment, and the only redeeming subplot of the entire film, is Cooper and Roberts arrival home to LA. The ambiguousness of their companionship—meeting as strangers on the plane, but leaving with a strong unspoken bond—is possibly the only aspect of the film that truly worked for me.

Valentine’s Day is shot nicely and constructed competently, but never breaks away from the generic romantic comedy structure we’ve come to expect from director Garry Marshall. When the definition of subtlety lies in the use of a song with the word "heartbreaker" while shirtless Eric Dane comes onscreen or one talking about the "first time" as Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins plan to lose their virginity, you know what you're in for. More than likely, the only people going to see it will be couples in love on date night. I guess there is a reason counter-programming exists—while those lovebirds watch shiny versions of themselves, the single guys like me will be attending The Wolfman. Or maybe we’ll just stay in and watch Love Actually again.

Valentine’s Day 4/10

[1] ANNE HATHAWAY as Liz and TOPHER GRACE as Jason in New Line Cinema's romantic comedy "Valentine's Day," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Ron Batzdorff
[2] SHIRLEY MACLAINE as Estelle and HECTOR ELIZONDO as Edgar in New Line Cinema's romantic comedy "Valentine's Day," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Ron Batzdorff

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