Is it possible to repeal a tradition? • Director Garry Marshall, still believing the Catskills are the center of the entertainment universe, makes a good case (and a bad movie) to do it with Valentine's Day. This is a 20-star pileup of romantic cliches that were groaners when Love, American Style used them on television 40 years ago. • Valentine's Day doesn't have a plot, just a series of rom-com vignettes averaging maybe 15 minutes each, edited and shuffled to create an illusion of substance. Characters are linked to others outside their tender dilemmas, by birth relations, shared occupations or just riding the same elevators. Most dots are connected by the fadeout to little surprise or impact. • Sure, it's possible for this ensemble flow chart format to work in modern times — see 2003's Love Actually — but Marshall, 75, has no intention of doing anything differently from days when Captain Stubing played matchmaker on the high seas.
Marshall's movie is Love Anemically, with actors coming off like captive kids, patiently smiling through Grandpa's reminiscences before moving on with something interesting in their lives.
I guess the center of this sluggish roundelay is Reed (Ashton Kutcher), who begins Feb. 14 by proposing to his lover, Morley (Jessica Alba), who isn't the sort to settle down. Morley accepts, to the surprise of Reed's best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner), who's in love with a doctor (Patrick Dempsey, McDreamy again) who hasn't told her he's married.
You have 10 seconds to guess how their situations will turn out, starting now.
Meanwhile, a TV sportscaster (Jamie Foxx) is dispatched by his producer (Kathy Bates) to do a Valentine's Day puff piece. He'd rather be covering a pro football player (Eric Dane) whose contract is up, and is coming out of the closet.
"The station wants more fluff," Bates says. The station could use Valentine's Day as a test pattern.
The player's publicist (Jessica Biel) and agent (Queen Latifah) are in damage-control mode. The agent's new receptionist (Anne Hathaway) is falling for a co-worker (Topher Grace), but can't reveal that she moonlights as a phone sex operator. Biel's character is planning an I Hate Valentine's Day party, which can be viewed as an inside punking of this movie.
But wait, there's more. A pensive Army captain (Julia Roberts) flying home on 24-hour leave gets cheered up by her seatmate (Bradley Cooper). An adolescent boy (Bruce Robinson) spends his allowance on a bouquet of roses at Reed's floral shop and awaits delivery. Reed's buddy (George Lopez) wisecracks romantic advice.
Nuzzling the older demographic, Marshall adds Shirley MacLaine and his good luck charm, Hector Elizondo, as a long-married couple shaken by her admission of an affair decades before. The best part of this subplot is learning the Hollywood Forever Cemetery shows movies among the headstones.
Giving the kids equal time (and reason to buy tickets), Marshall hired teen dreams Taylor Swift for a bit of coltish charm, and Taylor Lautner to do handsprings before they kiss. They're only on screen for five minutes, max, so tween buyers beware.
Valentine's Day is oppressively romantic, with its soundtrack of treacly love songs, frames filled with valentine bouquets and knick-knacks, and set designs primarily bathed in heart red. If the screenplay contained a fraction of that desire to cause swooning, the movie might work. But it's all prefab patter, in situations that could be settled in an instant if someone would say what's on their mind.
Even worse than Valentine's Day is news that Marshall is considering a rushed sequel, to be set and released on New Year's Eve. Come on, Mr. Seltzer in Your Pants; isn't messing up one tradition this year enough?
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.
A veteran NFL quarterback (Eric Dane) has a confession he's not sure he should make.
A talent agent's (Queen Latifah) assistant (Anne Hathaway) connects with a mailroom dude (Topher Grace) and complications follow.