There are so many romantic-comedy cliches crammed into Valentine's Day that watching it feels like surfing through the channels of an all-chick-flick cable service. Whenever you start to become bored by a particular plot strand or character, you only have to wait a minute or two until the film cuts away to something else. Here, finally, is a date movie for couples suffering from attention deficit disorder.
Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) has rounded up an impressive roster of big names: This has to be the starriest cast ever to grace such a formulaic crowd pleaser. Even though some of the famous faces appear for only a couple of minutes (sorry, Kathy Bates), the starpower works in the movie's favor, helping make the contrived scenarios more tolerable than they'd normally be.
Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner, for example, share such a nice rapport onscreen that you almost don't notice they are playing yet another reprisal of that stale rom-com stand-by: Two best friends stuck in rocky relationships to other people who don't realize they are perfect for each other. Jessica Biel brings a bit of much-needed credibility to her role as a harried publicist who can't get a date. You don't buy Biel as a lonelyheart for a second, but at least she makes the character amusing by pushing her neuroses to humorous extremes.
In her film debut, musical superstar Taylor Swift pretty much steals the movie from her more experienced co-stars as a bubble-headed teenager in love with her equally daft boyfriend (Taylor Lautner). Swift is a natural comedienne and fearless about making herself look silly: Her character, although as thin as the others, deserved more screen time.
But Valentine's Day, which was written by Katherine Fugate (creator of TV's Army Wives) and stitched together from the scripts of a hundred movies before it, has too much ground to cover to spend too long on any single protagonist. Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo are essentially wasted as a longtime couple about to renew their vows, while Julia Roberts contributes what amounts to an extended cameo as a military servicewoman sharing a flight with a guy (Bradley Cooper) who may or may not be flirting with her. Jamie Foxx looks bored as a TV sportscaster assigned to file a man-on-the-street report on the holiday, and George Lopez shows up to add a bit of Latin flavor to the proceedings as a flower deliveryman.
Too much of Valentine's Day, in fact - from the various ages of the protagonists to the carefully balanced mix of ethnicities and races - feels as if the movie were written by a marketing team thinking only about appealing to the widest demographic possible. The film might have fared better had it shed some of its blander plotlines (such as the silly romance between Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway, who moonlights as a phone-sex operator, a premise lifted from Short Cuts) and spent a little more time exploring the thrill and elation of being in love - or at least just being horny. Valentine's Day isn't a chore to sit through, but it isn't much to watch, either. It's perfect back ground material for necking, though: You can tune in and out with your date and barely miss a thing.