"Valentine's Day"

Because of what you are about to read and the opinion expertly crafted within, I have been accused of being a Movie Snob. I fervently disagree with this diagnosis and think the perpetrator should be forced to read the work of Owen Gleiberman (or any number of mainstream critics, for that matter) for a week so she can see what a true Movie Snob sounds like. But I’ll have to let you be the judge. Personally I think I’m the anti-movie snob. Sure, I call out the truly terrible movies but I also find good in movies that get seriously panned by the rest of the known universe. I mean, come on, I gave a B- to “Transformers 2” for goodness sakes! I ask a movie to do just two things: set a goal as to what type of movie it wants to be and work towards that goal as strongly as possible. For the most part it’s all about entertainment for me. Quite simply, I love movies. I did not love this movie.

“Valentine’s Day” is an ensemble set on a particular Memorial Day. No, wait, I mean Valentine’s Day. My bad. From a doctor to a football player, a florist to a soldier, the lives (and particularly their love lives) of a dozen or so Los Angelinos are examined for a brief moment in the effort to remind us about what love is all about. Whether successful in love or otherwise, these people are, I guess, supposed to represent the wide range of emotions we experience on Valentine’s Day. And, as always, all of their lives interconnect in one way or another. The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to “Crash” but annoyingly upbeat or “Love Actually” without a competent writer.

My guess is we’ve all, at one time or another, come in contact with that relative who’s gotten a little older and started to lose it. You know, the one who used to be of major influence in the family, the guy who made decisions. Now he’s not quite all there but he doesn’t want to admit it and no one has the heart to tell him. You know the type, yes? That’s the feeling you get watching “Valentine’s Day.” You know director Garry Marshall used to be good at his craft but the longer this film drags on, the more you think the guy has lost his movie marbles. I will not for one minute argue that I, as a twentysomething male, am the primary audience for “Valentine” or any other Marshall film. But I have appreciated (some of) Marshall’s past work and I am not diametrically opposed to the Chick Flick. “Pretty Woman,” for what it is, is a classic and “Runaway Bride” is solid (though both would be better without a hack like Richard Gere involved). Even “The Princess Diaries” had redeeming qualities for me until I was stuck in a waiting room for six hours a few years back and had to watch it three times. But “Valentine’s Day” is the type of thing that happens when a big name starts to lose it and no one around him has the heart to tell him no.

It isn’t all bad directing, though. The writing, while not atrocious, is certainly far from good and leaves an all star caliber cast with very little to work with. It’s cheesy and laughable but not in such a sophisticated manner as to become tongue-in-cheek or campy. There are several things that immediately identify poor writing but the one that drives me the craziest is when a set of characters have a conversation that shouldn’t take place on screen. If two characters have been sitting next to each other on an air plane for somewhere between ten and twelve hours, they would not introduce themselves when the movie starts. Period. Stuff like this denotes half-hearted storytelling.

And then we get into the issue of the ensemble. Ensembles are, for me, almost always very good or very bad. There isn’t much middle ground. If your actors are invested and your source material is strong, you can produce fantastic results. On the flip side of that, poor writing and direction allows an ensemble cast to give lazy, mailed in performances that do nothing to bring the material to life. The result seems, for lack of a better term, sloppy. Plot holes and bad dialogue look and sound worse when they’re happening to and being spoken by characters that are undeveloped and uncommitted. It is never a good sign when Ashton Kutcher gives the best performance in any movie, let alone one with this much talent. Too many characters are miscast and/or misused. Jamie Foxx is so uninspired that it makes one wonder what could have happened for this guy if he’d used his Best Actor Oscar for good instead of evil. And Patrick Dempsey continues to amaze me and by that I mean I’m amazed that he has any sort of career resembling the one he’s carved out for himself. That dude has some incriminating evidence against somebody who is very important in Hollywood. Even Taylor Swift is better in this than these guys were.

There are some nice moments in “Valentine’s Day” and some humor. As mentioned, Kutcher is quite funny and even George Lopez provides a laugh or two. Up to this point I’d always thought it was illegal for him to tell a funny joke. It’s always a personal joy to see Julia Roberts on screen (even if she is horribly miscast) and there’s a solid scene here and there. The overall product, however, is mindless, lazy, and lacking in execution. It is overly sappy without connection or relevance and rendered me completely uninterested. And if that takes me into the realm of movie snobbery, then I guess so be it.

Grade: D

I can’t believe I laughed with George Lopez,