Valentine's Day (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Just in time for its namesake holiday, Valentine's Day arrives to remind us of cinema's long history of successful omnibus romantic films that includes ... um, includes ... er, anyone?
I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to use the portmanteau narrative format to collect a bunch of love stories successfully; I'm simply saying that it has never been done. Love Actually in 2003 managed a few amusing and/or touching moments in its otherwise large bucket of treacle; Playing by Heart (1998) couldn't even manage sporadic tolerability. Going back to TV's goofy Love, American Style and The Love Boat, the romantic anthology format grates. Give me a few minutes of screen time, and I'll give you two people whose will-they-or-won't-they fate you won't have time to start caring about.
Ironically, Valentine's Day director Garry Marshall once said that Love, American Style was "where failed sitcom pilots went to die." And in Katherine Fugate's screenplay — which follows a handful of Los Angeles residents over the course of a single Valentine's Day — we get several such scenarios. How about the one with a retired couple (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine) caring for their precocious grandson (Bryce Robinson)? Or the transplant from the Midwest (Topher Grace) whose new girlfriend (Anne Hathaway) secretly moonlights as a phone-sex operator? Or the neurotic publicist (Jessica Biel) whose relationship with chocolate and her treadmill has lasted longer than any boyfriend?
These subplots are all superficial to varying degrees, but that superficiality is accentuated by the sheer tonnage of characters and entanglements. So even if you were interested in, say, what happens after florist Reed (Ashton Kutcher) proposes to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba), or whether Reed's gal-pal Julia (Jennifer Garner) will discover that her boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) is actually married, or what the deal is between the businessman (Bradley Cooper) and soldier (Julia Roberts) who meet on a plane, there isn't nearly enough time to get to know them. Valentine's Day covers approximately 20 main characters and 10 significant romantic angles in 120 minutes.
It's even more aggravating when those already minuscule stories are divided into microscopic chunks. So you'll get 20 to 30 seconds of two characters involved in an important, meaningful conversation ... followed by an irrelevant cutaway to a completely different story for 20 to 30 seconds ... followed by a return to the first. Do the math, and what can each subplot possibly deliver besides a cutesy intro, perfunctory conflict and happily-ever-after?
Still, even if Valentine's Day was inevitably going to be shallow, the least it could have done is provide some laughs — and there are a handful, some of which are even intentional. But the comedy panders in the same way that the romance does. It's a movie in which when somebody strips naked in a room expecting his or her paramour to arrive, somebody completely different will instead arrive, to embarrassing effect. If you're the sort of viewer who would be shocked and delighted by such a turn of events, then boy, oh boy, is this movie for you.
Indeed, the makers of Valentine's Day are so convinced there are thousands of those viewers out there that they've already begun planning a sequel, following a bunch of romantically challenged people around on New Year's Eve. That streak for unsuccessful omnibus romantic comedy films appears unlikely to end anytime soon.