Never have so many done so little for something so bland.
"Valentine's Day," the 2010 release from veteran comedy director Garry Marshall, is the "Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" of romantic comedies. Except that "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" actually worked a lot better.
Think about it: "Valentine's Day" has fully nineteen stars in its two-hour duration. Now, do the math. That divides out to a little over six minutes of screen time apiece. And somebody thought this would work?
This Americanized version of the 2003 British comedy "Love Actually" suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen, producing not a piping hot shepherd's stew but a cold dish of mixed mash.
Since there is too much going on in the film to describe it all, let me tell you who's in it, alphabetically: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Aston Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift.
There's everybody in there but Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Now, if the film had only starred Hanks and Ryan, period, it might have been a better show. Well, we do get Julia Roberts, a tribute, no doubt, to Marshall's "Pretty Woman" from twenty years earlier. (He also did "Runaway Bride," "The Flamingo Kid," "Overboard," "Georgia Rule," and "The Princess Diaries," along with about 800 television comedies from "The Odd Couple" and "Mork and Mindy" to "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley," in case you'd forgotten.)
The movie chronicles the lives of various romantic couples on Valentine's Day in Los Angeles. We get young couples, even younger couples, middle-aged couples, older couples, even older couples, recently introduced couples, newly engaged couples, and long-married couples. The one thing all the couples have in common: Love. Or lust. Take your pick.
Most of the movie is corny, silly, sentimental, and overly sweet, with a little of Eliza Doolittle's flower market thrown in for good measure. All the stories eventually intertwine, naturally, the characters finding themselves interrelated with one another in some way, even if the script has to do some far-fetched stretches to connect them. The problem is that the plot never develops any of the characters long enough for us to care about them. It's just snap to this couple, back to that couple, and over to the other couple. Snap, snap, snap, endlessly. With no crackle or pop.
There's so much terminal cuteness in the picture, I wanted to walk away after the first twenty minutes. Nevertheless, I stayed the course. What I found was that, fortunately, things were not all sweetness and light. There is also a little infidelity and philandering along the way to spice things up, although not enough to help. The movie is like one big sappy Valentine's card.
Now, shouldn't a romantic comedy be at least the tiniest bit romantic or funny? Not this one. I mean, why should we care about any of these people when we never get to know them? Needless to say, too, almost everyone in the story lives in a fancy house, an expensive apartment, or a beachfront bachelor pad. It's an entirely different universe from the one most of us live in. (OK, I can hear the counterargument now: No one wants to see a movie about the way people really live and behave; this is the movies, after all, and it's supposed to be a fairy-tale world of happily-ever-afters. Fair enough.)
"Valentine's Day" goes from bad to worse as ridiculous, contrived, and wholly predictable complications pile one on another. Seldom have so many likeable people made me dislike them so much. A few moments in the film's last half hour brought a smile to my face and an "ahhhh" to my lips. Otherwise, I found the movie a tedious bore.
While the video engineers at New Line Cinema do a decent job transferring the movie to high-definition Blu-ray disc, I doubt that the movie looked all that good in a theater. The engineers use a VC-1 codec and a dual-layer BD50 to ensure they capture most fo the film's picture in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The results are an extremely clean screen and a fairly soft image, no doubt, as I say, a characteristic of the original print. It looks, for all the world, like a digitally shot television production. The kindest thing I can say is that colors come off with a relatively subdued realism, without being overly bright or gaudy, often a drawback of too many comedic movies.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio seems more than a little wasted on a film that features mainly dialogue and background music. For what it is, however, it is more than competent. The midrange can get a tad bright and forward at times, and the sonic quality of the music, made up mostly of commercially available material, varies from song to song.
The first items on the disc are Blu-ray exclusives. The first item is a blooper reel, about six minutes. The second, "The Stars Confess Their Valentine's Day Stories," is about six minutes with the film's stars telling us their opinions of Valentine's Day. The third item, "The Garry Factor," is about five minutes with the cast telling us their opinions of the director. And the fourth item is an audio commentary by director Garry Marshall.
After those items, we get fourteen additional, deleted scenes, with optional director commentary; a music video, "Stay Here Forever" by Jewel; and a sneak peek trailer of "Sex and the City 2." Things conclude with twenty-eight scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"It's Valentine's Day," says one of the stars. "You don't have to think; you just do." That just about sums up the movie. You don't have to think. In fact, it helps if you don't think. Or even keep your eyes open. Which by the second half of the film you may find yourself doing in any case.