February 18, 2010

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Valentine’s Day (PG-13)
A cast of zillions shares the box of chocolate-covered cutesiness and disappointment in Valentine’s Day, a shabby and exhausting exercise in romantic comedy.

As we set off for this scary voyage into the unknown with “here there be monsters” written all over the map, let’s pick as our north star Ashton Kutcher, who plays a florist. As such, his story line is able to weave through a good chunk of the stories here — in his pink van, co-piloted when dialogue is required by George Lopez, he drives through the stories of a woman (Jennifer Garner) unwittingly dating a married man, a TV news personality (Jamie Foxx) annoyed at being given the Valentine’s Day beat, a little boy harboring a crush and a professional athlete (Eric Dane) at a crossroads. Further-out ripples in this stagnant pond include an annoying high school couple (Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner), a fidgety high school couple (the girl of which is Emma Roberts), a solider (Julia Roberts) home on leave, the nice guy (Bradley Cooper) who flirts with her on the plane, the grandparents (Hector Elizondo, Shirley MacLaine) of the boy with the crush, the woman (Jessica Alba) Kutcher proposes to, a cold-metal-on-frozen-glass painful 20something couple (Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace), and the athlete’s agent (Queen Latifah) and publicist (Jessica Biel). Also, Kathy Bates.

I’m guessing that the vast number of stories and characters was meant to make up for the fact that each one, individually, is poorly developed, half-baked and predictable. But just as a thousand thorny stems is never going to add up to one rose, so a multitude of stale “wackiness” and kissing does not a romantic comedy equal. Some of the stories are merely mediocre ideas executed poorly (Elizondo and MacLaine’s segments, the stuff with Eric Dane). Some make you angry (all the teenager-related silliness, the Garner story). Some make you shake your fists and curse the heavens and ask “why, God, why” (I’m looking at you, Hathaway and Biel). Valentine’s Day is the movie equivalent of a cheaply-made stuffed animal holding a heart with something inane stitched into it (I’m thinking something of the “I wub you” variety) — you expect to see them clog the shelves of the Rite Aid every year but you can’t imagine who actually enjoys receiving them. D-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity. Directed by Garry Marshall and written by Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, Valentine’s Day is an hour and 57 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.