‘Valentine’s Day’: Love stinks

February 10, 2010

Someday someone will write a film-school doctoral thesis on movie directors who got their start in the TV sitcoms of the 1970s, several of whom spun off from the “Happy Days” axis: Ron Howard. Penny Marshall. Rob Reiner (OK, he wasn’t in “Happy Days” – but he was once married to Penny Marshall and he was a sitcom star of the 1970s). And, of course, Garry Marshall.


Each has had a couple of hits, but none of them will be remembered for the strength, breadth or depth of their output, though Howard and Reiner actually have made some worthwhile films. (Indeed, I’d give Reiner a pass on all the crap he made in the past decade for the simple fact of having directed “This Is Spinal Tap,” a film as influential in its own way as “Pulp Fiction.”)


Garry Marshall is another story. While he’s directed hits (principally, “Pretty Woman,” a film that succeeded on the strength of Julia Roberts’ star power, rather than the script or filmmaking), he’s never made a movie that put it all together – one that didn’t, in the end, have the same needy attributes as an untrained puppy. Yeah, they’re cute – and?


Yet somehow he manages to keep making movies – and attracting big names to star in them. Exhibit A: “Valentine’s Day,” a movie that wants to do for that Hallmark holiday what Richard Curtis’ far superior – and infinitely funnier – “Love Actually” did for Christmas: exploit it to make a romantic comedy.


Just one problem: “Valentine’s Day” isn’t funny. At all. I believe I laughed out loud exactly twice. Once involved a gag by George Lopez, who is an ancillary character. The other involved comedian Larry Miller, who popped up for a cameo as a harried airline counter employee.


But the jokes, the slapstick, the character comedy? Nada. Nothing. Barely a titter. I’m usually ready to give even a weak film its props if it can make me laugh, but this film repeatedly falls flat.


Like “Love Actually,” “Valentine’s Day” assembles a large cast of familiar faces, then pairs them off for a bouquet of separate and intersecting plotlines that, individually and collectively, go nowhere. Set over the course of one Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, the film is a collection of predictable set-ups and nonexistent punchlines – or payoffs you see coming from miles away.


Some of the actors appear to have shot all their scenes in a single day on one soundstage. Others bounce around the city, popping up here and there in famous places. It’s like a bad video tour or outtakes from an “I Love L.A.” commercial.


As noted, the cast features a long list of above-the-title types: Julia Roberts, Emma Roberts, Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Shirley MacLaine, Hector Elizondo, Jessica Biel, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates.


Put it this way: The thoughts you’re having reading that cast list are probably funnier than anything Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate concoct in almost two hours of movie. There are lots of scenes where you can identify the humorous intent – but none that are actually funny in a way that will draw more than a smile.


It’s not that this is a chick flick. I’ve seen funny chick flicks. But this is a nitwit flick, the movie equivalent of an elaborately wrapped package which turns out to contain only styrofoam peanuts.


(And word is already out that the same geniuses who made this dud are hard at work extruding a sequel called “New Year’s Eve.” I believe there’s something in the Book of Revelations about this.)


If you want to see a funny, romantic and touching film for Valentine’s Day, rent Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.” If you want to see “Valentine’s Day,” light your money on fire and watch it burn – it will have an equivalent entertainment value and you’ll save on gas, parking and snacks.


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