Remember how “Love Actually” made the ensemble rom-com seem like such a good idea? That movie was charming, heartwarming, funny, sensitive and had a long list of prominent actors (Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Billy Nighy, Colin Firth, Laura Linney and Liam Neeson, just to name a few). It had cute, feel-good intertwining stories that just happened to merge into a good film.
It’s no surprise that other filmmakers would want to try this formula: choose a holiday, attract big-name stars, put them in romantic situations and voila — you’ve got yourself some romantic comedy gold.
Cue “Valentine’s Day,” the latest rom-com from Garry Marshall, the man behind “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries.” Centered on the titular holiday, Marshall has accumulated a who’s who of Hollywood’s most beautiful and famous people and clustered them into romantic situations.
Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts and Taylor Swift round out the star-studded ensemble.
When you see a cast list like that, you think one of two things: 1) Wow! How did they get so many stars in one movie? That must mean it’s amazing! or 2) That’s an awful lot of famous people for one movie. Are the filmmakers maybe trying to overcompensate for something?
Unfortunately, in the case of “Valentine’s Day,” it’s the latter. For most of the people in this movie, “Valentine’s Day” probably amounted to a fairly sizable paycheck for a short time commitment. For the most part, it feels like Marshall and his team decided to see how many stars they could lock down for the film and then attempted to craft a coherent story around all of them.
Like “Love Actually” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Valentine’s Day” combines several intertwining love stories. Essentially, characters get together or break up, all because of the pressures and excitement of Valentine’s Day.
A few of the film’s romantic situations involve Reed (Ashton Kutcher) proposing to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) only to learn that Valentine’s Day might not be as magical as he initially believed, phone sex operator Liz (Anne Hathaway) attempting to hold down a normal relationship with her unsuspecting new boyfriend (Topher Grace), a sports publicist (Jessica Biel) and a sports journalist (Jamie Foxx) trying to avoid the anti-single holiday and an airline traveler (Bradley Cooper) striking up a conversation with a soldier (Julia Roberts) on leave for the weekend.
One of the movie’s biggest flaws is that it tries to do too much. Yes, it has lots of stars, but most of them aren’t given any time to do much of anything. In order to accommodate all of its actors, the numerous storylines feel very rushed.
On top of that, “Valentine’s Day” features some of the blandest writing I’ve seen in a romantic comedy in awhile. The dialogue is so forced and so wooden that even Oscar winners like MacLaine and Foxx seem stale. Most of the storylines and most of the characters are boring and forgettable, with only a handful of exceptions.
Roberts and Cooper are by far the best part of the film, both in terms of their characters and their storylines, but of course that means they have the least amount of screen time. Latifah also provides a few laughs during the few minutes she is onscreen.
The movie attempts to emulate the charm and awe-inducing cuteness of “Love Actually” and even “He’s Just Not That Into You,” but “Valentine’s Day” turns out to be nothing a jumbled, sickly sweet mess.
Follow Alexa Milan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexamilan.