'V-Day'? More Like D-Day
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Imagine briefly that some island castaway lives in isolation, having never met or spoken to an actual human being. The only cultural artifacts to divert the solitude are a copy of Richard Curtis' 2003 London-set Christmastime ensemble comedy "Love Actually" and a map of Los Angeles. This person then writes a movie. That movie is "Valentine's Day." As a friend of mine noted, shell-shocked after the press screening, "I kind of like 'Love Actually' as a guilty pleasure, but compared to that, it's 'Nashville.'" That's a convoluted set of analogies, but, trust me, they offer you far more mental stimulus than all of the sloppy, shabby, sentimental, shot-through-dishwater 125 minutes of "Valentine's Day."
Directed by Garry Marshall, whose slight, shameless "Pretty Woman" looks like "The Apartment" in comparison to the candy box of sticky-sweet sappiness and frothy-light nougat chunks of empty ethical dilemma of "Valentine's Day," the movie follows a group of Los Angeles residents through, yes, Valentine's Day. The young florist (Ashton Kutcher) who's just proposed to his flinty, all-bidness girlfriend (Jessica Alba). The teacher (Jennifer Garner) whose too-perfect doctor boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) is just that. The lifelong lovers (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine) who still have surprises for each other. The young lovers whose two-week-long budding dating is disrupted when he (Topher Grace) forgets the big day and she (Anne Hathaway) hides her work as a phone sex operator. The soldier (Julia Roberts) seated next to a suit-clad smoothie (Bradley Cooper) on a flight back to Los Angeles. The randy teens (including Taylors Swift and Lautner). The anti-romantic sports reporter (Jamie Foxx) working with the romance-hating publicist (Jessica Biel) as an NFL quarterback (Eric Dane) makes an important decision. The towheaded kid (Bryce Robinson) whose somber circumstances have made him need to believe in love to a degree far beyond his years, just like Thomas Sangster in "Love Actually," right down to the haircut.
"Valentine's Day" isn't just shabby, it is vaguely racist and a bit homophobic. When two men share a tender moment, it's the one caressing the cheek of the other with a flower. God forbid they should actually touch and weird out the suburbanites lured in by the promise of love as they know it, and as they know it alone.) It's also clumsy and badly-made. I've seen 30-second ads that make Los Angeles look more attractive than every grimy, clammy shot cinematographer Charles Minsky throws between sitcom-level wackiness and phony arguments and cheap reconciliations. Love, it is said, makes fools of us all. But movies like "Valentine's Day" try to fool us: that easy endings are happy ones, that sex is something to be afraid of, that activity is a substitute for story, that bigness excuses blandness, that Los Angeles is made of wealthy white people with some occasional ethnic comedic relief. The real St. Valentine was stoned and beheaded; would that the same fate fell on the people behind this shallow, shabby fraud.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.