The look on the teenage girl’s face was priceless. The theater was packed, and with my blessing, she sat down in the seat next to me. But not before she pieced the clues together – the aisle on my right, an open seat on my left – and realized that she and her girlfriend would be sitting next to a single man who went to see the movie “Valentine’s Day” on Valentine’s Day by himself.
Such are the realities of a bachelor who moonlights every other week as an amateur film critic. It was a classic moment that I was enjoying immensely. I hoped the movie would never begin. But like most good things, the self-deprecating joy was fleeting, stamped out by director Garry Marshall’s (“Pretty Woman,” “The Princess Diaries”) vapid ode to the day Hallmark made.
Admittedly, “Valentine’s Day” has put me in the unfortunate position where I come off looking like Jennifer Biel’s character, who is bitter about being single on this, the pinkest of days. As a man who is quite comfortable with his station – and not averse to romance, I might add – I resent such implications, especially when they emerge from a romantic comedy that has all the depth of a well-crafted jewelry store commercial.
The film follows an ensemble of stars as they navigate their loosely-intertwined love lives on February 14. The hub of the action, if there is one, is the Siena Florists, run by Ashton Kutcher. Floating on clouds from his morning proposal to Jessica Alba, Mr. Kutcher takes his job as the deliverer of love seriously. Meanwhile, lifelong sweethearts Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo deal with a secret from the past. Anne Hathaway tries to conceal her job as a phone-sex operator from her new boyfriend (Topher Grace) and her boss (Queen Latifah). A teen couple has the simple yet impossible goal of losing their virginities. Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts get to know each other on a flight back to L.A., though not in the way you expect. Jamie Foxx, a local TV station’s “number two sports guy,” is forced to do a series of
puff pieces on the holiday. A star NFL quarterback (Eric Dane) announces he’s gay and then disappears until the closing
montage that ties up all the lose ends.
Considerable onscreen talent has been amassed for “Valentine’s Day,” which makes it all the more glaring that Katherine Fugate’s screenplay offers little to mine for laughs and drama. Patrick Dempsey (ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) is cast as a successful doctor with multiple love interests, which would be the most obvious clue that the film lacks creativity – if it were not for the nauseating reminders every two minutes that it was Valentine’s Day. Instead of using the holiday as a springboard into the complexities of love, the movie gives us Ashton Kutcher in a pink T-shirt. Even a flight attendant interrupts the conversation between Mr. Cooper and Ms. Roberts to deliver two huge, heart-shaped lollipops. Who knew Cupid Air provided such great service for its coach passengers?
Some characters miss the mark completely, such as a lovesick middle-schooler who fancies a classmate because she also has Frank Zappa on her iPod (too young?) and loves giraffes (too old?). Random bit actors – a snarky airport security guard, two habit-wearing nuns – have the most obvious attempts at a joke, followed closely by three different dogs. Even George Lopez, the cast’s most skilled comedian, seems bored as Mr. Kutcher’s trusty immigrant assistant.
In three seconds, the teen’s reaction to my lack of company – the confusion, the pity, the schadenfreude – said more about our culture’s relationship to the romantic holiday than the star-studded cast of “Valentine’s Day” could in nearly two hours. Unfortunately, that is not saying very much.
1 hr. 57min. Rated PG-13 for some sexual material.