Director Garry Marshall seems to have thought that he should package “Valentine’s Day”, written by Katherine Fugate. Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein, as a Whitman’s Sampler with 15 A-List actors and riffs off of “American Graffiti”, “Love, Actually”, and “New York, I Love You”.
First of all, these vaunted, or at least much-heralded actors, aren’t given much room to maneuver; it’s also possible they implausibly raised our expectations of what the production would be. Second, there’s a Wolfman Jack d.j. character whose playlist is meant to hold the story together but it doesn't. Third, there’s an endearing story line of a tweenage boy who simply must deliver a Valentine to the object of his affection, a tweenage girl but such compelling scenes are few and far between. Not only is the story formulaic and cliché-riddled, it also spreads itself thin: tweenage love, senior love, gay love, bi-racial love, mother-as-soldier-home-on-leave love, and, last but not least, phone-sex love. There are breakups, there is infidelity, there is first-love, long-lasting love, and there are two story lines that try too hard to pound their celibacy down our throats. Though it could have been a blockbuster in more ways than one, Marshall doesn’t seem to know how to mold the elements into a single, coherent piece. That's a shame, as he certainly had the material and the man- and womanpower to do so.
The main problem with the movie is one of pacing. At least the story lines in “New York, I Love You” and “Love, Actually” build momentum that rises and then peaks. You feel for the well-developed characters and their plights. In this film, the story lines intersect but they do so with too-little urgency. The characters are two-dimensional; they feel like they’ve been cut and pasted into their respective situations. From the start it’s obvious that the movie’s going to have a happy ending that should go off like a Roman Candle. The film may tie all the loose ends together, some in ingenious ways, but the end result, because the preliminary build up occurs in slow motion, is more of a fizzle than a pyrotechnic display, cinegenic faces notwithstanding.
The end result is less a dissection of the varieties of romantic Valentine’s Day experience than a marvel at how Marshall marshaled these actors into one film. In theory, the cast is astounding and so they remained: great in potential. Julia Roberts as a U.S. Army Captain Kate Hazeltine. Bradley Cooper as a recently single gay man. Ashton Kutcher as a florist. Jessica Alba as a career woman who broke up with Kutcher. George Lopez as Kutcher’s best male friend. Schoolteacher Jennifer Garner as his best female friend. Patrick Dempsey as a philandering heart (god, the cliché!) surgeon. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift as a high school couple in the flight of first love. Eric Dane as a professional football player. Jessica Biel as his publicist, Queen Latifah as his agent. Jamie Fox as a sports reporter, Kathy Bates as his producer. Anne Hathaway as Queen Latifah’s receptionist, as the two-week girlfriend of mailroom clerk, Topher Grace, and as a phone sex worker. You have to marvel at how Marshall, in a fluff piece no less, managed to go nowhere with these actors. He tried to concoct a romantic smorgasbord – plenty for everyone – and ended up with gruel.