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Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher in the romantic comedy Valentine's Day.

Ron Batzdorff/© MMIX New Line Productions, Inc.

2 out of 4 stars


Valentine's Day

  • Directed by Garry Marshall
  • Written by Katherine Fugate
  • Starring most everybody except Hugh Grant and Jennifer Aniston
  • Classification: PG

In your typical subpar Hollywood romcom, there's only one tedious love story to put up with. Well, Valentine's Day (such a clever title) does a whole lot better than that: It offers 10 tedious love stories to put up with. Now, don't hold me to that exact head count. Never much on estimating crowd sizes, I could be off by an amorous couple or three. Which reminds me. Since 10 yarns necessitates 20 performers, pretty much every romantic lead in the biz appears in this flick. So, for purposes of identification, it might be easier simply to mention who isn't in it. Far as I can tell, Hugh Grant isn't. Neither, I think, is Jennifer Aniston.

The crowd gathers in Los Angeles on a single Feb. 14, and the daisy-chain plot unfolds from sunup to sundown. First, then, the couples awaken in their various beds. When they do, Ashton Kutcher slips an engagement ring around the finger of Jessica Alba, but she doesn't seemed too thrilled about it, so that ain't going anywhere. Meanwhile, Patrick Dempsey hides his wedding ring from Jennifer Garner, which says it all about the lying two-timer. Then Anne Hathaway bolts out of the sack and leaves Topher Grace in a state less than graceful. Forgive her haste, though, 'cause she's in the communication industry and has work to do: "Valentine's is the busiest day of the year for phone sex." I didn't know that.

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How many couples is that? Damn, only three. Okay, bear with me. Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo are a pair of long-married geezers sitting on an undisclosed secret; Jamie Foxx seems to be cruising in the general direction of Jessica Biel; Julia Roberts is an army captain flying home on a commercial plane and keeping close aeronautic company with Bradley Cooper; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins are hormonal high-schoolers keen to lose their virginity but, this being a family picture, don't bet on it; ditto for Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, since a movie just can't have too many horny teens (or, apparently, actors named Taylor).

I know, I know, I'm still missing a few couples, but higher math was never my strong suit and, unaccountably, I attended the screening without a slide rule and calculator. So sue me, if you must, for neglecting my plot-summary duties. I can only plead nolo contendere.

Of course, the above-mentioned thespians all play characters who, as the interminable day wears on, interconnect in different and occasionally surprising ways. Kind of like Crash, yet without the cars and the pretentious social conscience. Now, some might find a little mild amusement in discovering exactly how they connect. But not me. I was too busy feeling sorry for veteran director Garry Marshall, saddled with the unenviable task of ensuring that every crowd member gets his or her face time onscreen.

His solution is forthright enough: The film may be set in L.A., but no scene lasts longer than a New York minute. From airplane to high school to bedroom and back again, Marshall is always cutting away from somebody or something. But it's what he often cuts to that initially had me baffled. Why is his camera so fond of soliciting reaction shots from dogs - big dogs, small dogs, yappy ones, mute ones? Hmm.

Anyway, by the end, we do learn a thing or two about the holy subject of amour. MacLaine tells us, "When you love someone, you love all of them," but, you know, that could just be Shirley talking that reincarnation jive again. Then another wise voice asserts: "You don't step into love, you fall." That's when it hit me, my epiphany. You don't fall for a movie like Valentine's Day, but it's just the sort of squishy thing you might accidentally step into. So, hey, maybe that explains all those damn dogs. Just a guess.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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