Half-Eaten Chocolates

Valentine’s Day is a sampler you don’t want to give

Valentine’s Day is yet another date movie that’s less than the sum of its parts. The sheer number of A-list actors involved spells trouble: Jessica Biel, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway provide cast padding for the likes of B-listers Taylor Swift, George Lopez and Emma Roberts.

Intertwining romantic threads weave a haphazard pattern in the City of Angels. Ashton Kutcher is Reed, a pink shirt-wearing flower shop owner who prematurely proposes to Jessica Alba, playing a typecast role as Morley, a snooty little minx who rejects his offer. Reed’s platonic gal-pal-since-childhood Julia (Jennifer Garner), is dating a doctor with big secrets, and has her own love lessons to learn. Hathaway falls on her actor’s sword as Liz, a temp office receptionist who has a sideline as a phone sex entertainer when she isn’t pursuing a “simple” relationship with Topher Grace as her doormat-to-be. With half as many sub-plots the filmmakers might have been able to keep the plates of passion spinning atop their spindly knees. As it stands, by the time Liz’s office boss Queen Latifah experiments with some off-hours phone sex as an African dominatrix, there’s far too much broken china for anyone to escape without bloody feet. Screenwriter Katherine Fugate, whose credits include Xena: Warrior Princess and Max Steel, should stick to her day job as a TV writer. Hollywood is full up with hacks as it is.

Valentine’s Day so wants to be a platform for Kutcher to inhabit a cupid who gets shot with his own arrow that the film all but collapses around him. The disparate narrative sampler starts out with Reed rolling out of bed with his fresh-faced girlfriend Morley. He gets down on his knee at bedside to propose to her. When Morley refuses to wear the ring, for fear of attracting too much attention at work, we know Reed won’t be having the Valentine’s Day he imagines. With this single scene, the filmmakers paint the movie into a corner because Kutcher’s energetic comic touch is better suited to the confection than every other character.

Roberts is Grace, a soldier flying home on a leave that will give her only a handful of hours to spend with her significant other before she has to return to duty. Bradley Cooper plays Grace’s seatmate Holden, who imposes his kinder-than-thou personality on her so that the audience is left waiting for the other shoe to drop. The filmmakers hoard personal revelations about Grace and Holden for a miscalculated emotional climax that discharges the last bit of helium from this heart-shaped fiasco.

Most of the film has a perfunctory going-through-the-motions kind of vibe that reflects the way many people think of Valentine’s Day. Everyone knows that florists jack up the prices on flowers for an occasion built around initiating consumer spending. We’re already used to watching Kutcher sell cameras in commercials that repeat the same kind of whispered flirtation that momentarily erupts from the half-eaten chocolates of Valentine’s Day. That his florist character has to suffer the emotional indignities of his profession is perhaps the best consolation of sitting through this romantically inept film.

Cole Smithey is the “Smartest Film Critic in the World.”

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