Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Unoriginal Romantic Comedy Squanders Bounty of A-List Stars

If you’ve seen Love Actually (2003), then you have a decent idea of what director Garry Marshall was aiming for with Valentine's Day, a shameless rip-off with none of the charm of the delightful romantic comedy it so desperately seeks to emulate. The original, set in London during the Christmas season, engagingly explored an array of both lighthearted and sobering relationship issues through the prism of 10 couples in conflict. The essence of Love Actually’s appeal lay in the deceptive fashion in which its endearing characters were introduced, developed and serendipitously intertwined en route to a satisfying payoff.

By contrast, this relatively-dreadful endeavor fails miserably in its attempt to generate the same sort of magic. The movie unfolds in Los Angeles over the course of one incredibly-eventful Valentine’s Day where we find emotional depth replaced by increasingly-infuriating superficiality. Instead of sophisticated, insightful badinage we hear crude, locker room banter. And instead of intriguing tales leading to realistic revelations we’re insulted with implausible and shocking, rabbit-out-of-the-hat developments.

A brief intro to a few of the plot’s primary threads ought to be enough to give you a sense of the scale of the disaster. Receptionist Liz (Anne Hathaway) is having a hard time hiding the fact that she’s moonlighting as a phone sex operator from her new beau, Jason (Topher Grace), the mail room clerk. Not to worry, he’s so dumb he thinks Valentine’s Day falls on Thursday every year. I did not make that up.

Their bi-polar boss, high-powered sports agent Paula (Queen Latifah), even has Liz’s back in a pinch. For this sassy sister is a sexual animal who refers to herself as a “true African Queen,” which means she is more than willing to cover by talking dirty with Liz’s callers in a pinch. One of Paula’s clients is 35 year-old Sean Jackson (Eric Dane), a fading pro football star who is celebrated as the gay Jackie Robinson for finally coming out of the closet at the twilight of his career. What? I know, that also makes no sense.

Meanwhile, grade-schooler Edison (Bryce Robinson) is busy buying flowers for a cute East Indian classmate (Megan Suri) he has a crush on. Their cross-cultural puppy love is lifted right out of Love Actually where a similar scenario had a white drummer secretly pining away for the African-American lead singer in the school band. Too bad, this version fails to generate any chemistry or vulnerability. The same can be said of the additional twists embroiling Bradley Cooper, Jessica Alba, Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, George Lopez, Kathy Bates, Emma Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Hector Elizondo, Patrick Dempsey, Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift in other liaisons.

Furthermore, every attempt at humor falls flat, whether it be a Jewish mother warning a couple of nuns she asked to hold her baby that “You should know we’re Jewish,” or Jamie Foxx explaining ”I am the chocolate” as an excuse for not having Valentine’s Day gift.

I don’t know what Bob Dylan was referring to when he sang “You just kinda wasted my precious time,” but that accurately sums up my feelings exiting the theater after this two-hour test of patience.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief nudity.
Running time: 125 Minutes
Distributor: New Line Cinema

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