After you've seen Valentine's Day, cuddle up with your beloved and indulge in our Spoiler Special discussion:
The best part of Valentine's Day (Warner Bros.) is when Taylor Swift locks Taylor Lautner in her basement in order to fatten him up and feed him to Jessica Biel, but then George Lopez breaks in and rescues him and the two of them fall in love. No, wait, that didn't happen. It must have been the bit when Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner met cute at Home Depot—they were both buying sandpaper, but they didn't know what gauge they needed, so they tested the grit level by sanding each others' forearms raw.
Honestly, there's no way a reasonable viewer should be expected to keep straight the plot of a movie with 23 significant characters and (allowing for overlap) somewhere between 10 and a dozen independent storylines. Just know this: Over the course of one Valentine's Day in Los Angeles—a holiday that, in this movie's universe, holds the sacramental significance of its ancient Roman ancestor Lupercalia—a whole bunch of name-brand movie stars, and some other people who closely resemble them, cavort, make mistakes, and eventually fall—or fall back, or confirm that they have always been—in love.
To the extent there is a main story here, it's probably that of Ashton Kutcher, who plays Reed Bennett, a florist, who, as the movie begins, proposes to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba). She accepts, and Reed begins his busiest day of the year on cloud nine. But as the flower-delivery orders start pouring in, problems accrue. Reed's best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner) comes in to sigh over the dreaminess of her new love, Harrison (Patrick Dempsey). But Reed knows from a flower order that Harrison has just placed that Julia's boyfriend already has a wife and child. Should he tell her the truth and risk ruining her Valentine's Day? Then Jessica Alba shows up sans engagement ring and complaining of cold feet. A little boy (Bryce Robinson) rides his bike to the flower shop to order flowers for a mystery woman; that little boy's nanny (Emma Roberts) is a high-schooler planning to lose her virginity at lunch hour to her boyfriend (Carter Jenkins), and the boy's grandparents (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) are a devoted couple about to face a revelation that will test their relationship.
A separate set of subplots revolve around a football player (Eric Dane) rumored to be on the verge of retirement. He's pursued by a local TV sportscaster (Jamie Foxx), gets in a fender-bender with the florist's deliveryman (George Lopez), and is hovered over by his breezily self-confident manager (Queen Latifah) and his shrill, neurotic publicist (Jessica Biel). In what's probably the movie's least awful storyline, Anne Hathaway, as an aspiring actress who secretly moonlights as a phone-sex operator, tentatively plans to celebrate V-Day with her boyfriend of two weeks, a straight-laced transplant from Indiana (Topher Grace).
Exhausted from trying to follow all that? Cry me a river. Try realizing, a half-hour into this 126-minute movie, that all those narratives (plus at least three more) have just been set in place, and that you're responsible for accompanying and eventually summarizing all 12 story arcs, from buildup to crisis to resolution. It's like operating an air-traffic control tower: Whoa! Shirley MacLaine incoming! Landing gear deployed … take 'er to the gate, boys. George Lopez, you keep circling up there while Jessica Alba refuels. Perhaps fittingly, there is a literal air-travel theme in Valentine's Day, with Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper flirting at 35,000 feet and Ashton Kutcher running barefoot through an airport. (What if all of the people who raced through airports on-screen—Kutcher, George Clooney in Up in the Air, O.J. in that car-rental ad—collided in a giant heap and just lay there, cursing and writhing?)
Hathaway and Grace do at least have some physical chemistry, and her phone-sex scenes are the only hint, in this hearts-and-flowers universe, that someone somewhere is thinking about getting it on. Contemplating the romantic prospects of Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner, it's hard to summon up a sentiment beyond the one muttered by my viewing companion: "Fine, mush your boring faces together already."
Valentine's Day, directed by the romantic-comedy veteran Garry Marshall ( Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and written by Katherine Fugate, is firmly committed to the notion of economy of scale. What it lacks in charm, humor, and intelligence, it makes up for in sheer volume. Why settle for one high-schoolers-in-love subplot when you can cram in a second, starring Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner as adorable airheads who serve no apparent narrative function? Why rely on one female character to provide the klutzy physical comedy when you can have three (the highly capable Anne Hathaway, the just-competent Jennifer Garner, and the intolerable Jessica Biel)? Marshall's attempt to please every conceivable audience is like a 200-piece Whitman's sampler. What's the point of getting that much candy if you want to discard every piece after the first bite?
Slate V: The critics on Valentine's Day and other new releases
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