Most romantic comedies try hard to woo us and charm us with things like engaging characters, fresh stories or perhaps actual romance. Valentine's Day is content to rain so many A-list stars down on our heads that we're eventually bludgeoned into submission. Long and spineless and ultimately grueling, it's like being shown five-minute clips from the greatest romances of all time, but in grainy YouTube quality and with someone-- someone probably a lot like director-- Garry Marshall sitting beside you to overexplain everything. You'll walk out feeling not like you've enjoyed it, but like you survived.
Set in Los Angeles, the city that for some reason lends itself to sprawling interconnected narratives about boring and terrible people, Valentine's Day tackles 23 distinct characters and manages to make us root for pretty much none of them. The closest thing the film has to a main character is Ashton Kutcher's florist, who wakes up that morning and proposes to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) and then spends the day bantering with his assistant (George Lopez in the thankless role usually reserved for sassy black women). Ashton's best friend (whatever, it's not like the actual character names matter anyway) is elementary school teacher Jennifer Garner, newly in love with boyfriend Patrick Dempsey but unaware that he's not rushing off to surgery, but back home to his wife.
Somewhere else in the city, high school senior Emma Roberts want to have sex with her boyfriend (Carter Jenkins, because apparently none of the Jonas Brothers said yes). At the same high school Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner play girlfriend and boyfriend, blatantly shoved into the movie for teen appeal and given nothing more to do.Jessica Biel is out there trying to balance life and work and flirting with sportscaster Jamie Foxx, who's trying to figure out the next career movie from brooding football player Eric Dane. Queen Latifah, who doesn't get her own romance, is Jessica Biel's boss. An irritating child actor trying to act adorable (Bryce Robinson) manages to pay $13 to send roses to his one true love, Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo prove that love can last into old age, and somewhere up in the air, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper are meeting cute on an airplane that hands out complimentary heart-shaped lollipops (I know this movie is a fantasy, but that really takes it too far).
The one remotely bright spot is a tentative new romance between fresh Indiana transplant Topher Grace and office receptionist Anne Hathaway, who moonlights as a phone sex worker. The two have a nice chemistry, and Hathaway is hilarious when pretending to be a Russian dominatrix or a Southern belle over the phone. The appeal of their story only highlights the glum mediocrity of all the others, and just when you're enjoying spending time with them-- whoosh!-- you're zipped away to some more bland characters spouting off truisms about love that even those naive Taylors probably don't believe.
Valentine's Day is the kind of movie in which Vietnamese characters are on the sidelines speaking in thick accents because, hey, that's funny. It's the kind of movie in which an Indian wedding is used simply as an excuse for one uptight lead character to cut loose. It's the kind of movie in which Jessica Alba plays a career woman. It's the kind of movie that includes two gay characters as a nod to modern times, but when it comes time for their big romantic moment, the actors aren't even shown in the same frame, and the only gesture of affection is one tousling the other's hair. I get that the movie is doing its best to be mainstream, but even Pat Robertson could handle more than that.
Clearly someone conceived this as the American answer to Love, Actually, and being American, they made it bigger, louder, uglier and more ungainly than the original. We're the country that made It Happened One Night. We're better than this.