Nice to look at, hard to watch
By Jen Chaney
Friday, Feb. 12 2010
For almost all of its 124 minutes, "Valentine's Day" delivers exactly what anyone with remedial knowledge of the romantic comedy genre would expect: marriage proposals and mad dashes through airports; climactic kisses and sudden realizations of love; hot, inexplicably lonely women who mainline chocolate; and men who callously dismiss all this Cupid business as nothing more than a "made-up holiday," until, of course, they fall for those hot, lonely women who mainline chocolate.
To be fair, "Valentine's Day" does surprise once or twice as it unspools its multiple, vaguely connected, L.A. lovey-dovey stories. Those unexpected moments just aren't enough to compensate for the fact that this feels less like a movie and more like a strategically programmed effort to turn as many demographic groups as possible into mooshy, gooshy, candy-heart-munching morons.
A key part of that strategic effort is the massive ensemble cast, which includes two Oscar nominees (Anne Hathaway and Queen Latifah), four Oscar winners (Shirley MacLaine, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates and Julia Roberts), the niece of an Oscar winner (Emma Roberts), two guys from "That '70s Show" (Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher), two former "Alias" stars (Jennifer Garner and Bradley Cooper), McSteamy and McDreamy from "Grey's Anatomy" (Eric Dane and Patrick Dempsey), a pair of tween sensations named Taylor (Lautner and Swift) and a couple of Jessicas (Biel and Alba). Oh, and George Lopez. And Hector Elizondo. And, in a brief cameo, the kitchen sink.
Director Garry Marshall throws in so much -- pretty faces, plotlines, scenes in which Swift makes out with Lautner while one of her songs plays -- that breaking down the whole heart-shaped mess into a succinct plot summary is a bit of a challenge. But here's my best shot.
Reed Bennett (Kutcher) is a florist who wakes up bright, early and besotted on Valentine's Day and proposes to his career-oriented girlfriend (Alba). She says yes, but it's clear to everyone -- except, of course, Reed -- that Flower Guy really belongs with Julia (Garner), the dimple-cheeked sweetie-pie teacher with the doctor boyfriend (Dempsey, duh) and the pal in the P.R. business (Biel) who throws an annual anti-Valentine's Day bash to mourn her manlessness but just might connect with a local sportscaster (Foxx). I could keep going on like this, but you get the picture. Plus, it would be hard to continue with a straight face after describing Biel as a neurotic, chocolate-pounding, Bridget Jones type. This chick is honestly bitter on Valentine's Day? Please. Cry me a river.
"Valentine's Day" largely relies on stale gender stereotypes and tired comedy routines that don't elicit much laughter. Still, a couple of performers manage to achieve moments of genuine humanity amid the scented-candle haze. Emma Roberts handles her role as a teen grappling with her sexuality with mostly convincing, understated grace. And her auntie Julia pops off some palpable sparks with Cooper.
In fact, it's their flirtation that proves most interesting here, not only because they make such a fine, flirty match but because the movie has the guts to take each of their characters in completely unexpected directions. (Hence, the surprises I mentioned earlier.)
The rest of "Valentine's Day," however, just runs around the same old romantic-comedy bases, never daring to truly change the game.
Contains sexual material and brief partial nudity.