Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Valentine's Day' wins no critical love

Ashton Kutcher delivers flowers to Jennifer Garner.

Not content with one romantic comedy, the sappy and conspicuously cute Valentine's Day serves up dozens of them. But by the time this Garry Marshall-directed bouquet is fully delivered, the flowers of romance have wilted amid a sitcom level treatment of love that has been fertilized with a few moments of awkwardly expressed seriousness.

The principal draw here is a large cast that includes Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Queen Latifah, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx and Ashton Kutcher. I'm sure I've omitted someone terribly important to you, but you can check the ads to see which of the movie's 20 or so actors have enough appeal to make you take the plunge.

Marshall directed 1984's The Flamingo Kid and 1990s overrated Pretty Woman, but in pictures such as Georgia Rule and Runaway Bride, he has developed a shtick that mixes dated humor with the lard of high-calorie sentiment.

In Valentine's Day, the formula feels more warmed over than warm -- the difference, say, between a meal prepared in a microwave and one whipped up by a master chef. Valentine's Day is not so much a movie as a display of formulaic elements embedded in a fantasy version of Los Angeles. Maybe you can amuse yourself by bringing a scorecard on which you can keep track of the many stars who overpopulate this supposed confection.

As interrelated mini-stories revolve around a florist shop run by Kutcher's Reed Bennett, the movie attempts to impress us with a teeming cornucopia of love-struck types: There's a cad, a woman who hates Valentine's Day, a guy who suffers through a broken engagement, a squeaky clean-looking woman who supplements her income by working at phone sex, a powerhouse agent, a professional quarterback, a newscaster and an elementary-school kid who desperately wants to send flowers to the love of his life.

Marshall tosses in a few surprises, but they can't compensate for the fact that the movie is so scattered, it's impossible to care about its horde of characters, most of whom who are pushed through one contrived situation after another en route to the inevitable outtakes.

At one point, youngsters in a classroom are asked if they know the origins of Valentine's Day. One kid responds by citing the massacre that took place in Chicago in 1929. We've had a variety of movies dealing with that epic moment in mob history, but midway through Valentine's Day -- which may be too innocuous to raise any real ire -- I found myself longing for the rat-a-tat of Capone's sub-machine guns. Too much cuteness will do that.

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