February's designated Hallmark holiday now has its own cinematic greeting card.
Valentine's Day, Garry Marshall's all-star candy sampler, is confected in the mold of Love, Actually, but with more sugar and fewer surprises. As sweets go, it's not dense and complex like a truffle, rather, it's light and modest like a chocolate kiss. It's not art; it's a pick-me-up.
The script from Katherine Fugate sprawls as wide as Greater Los Angeles and goes about as deep as, well, a Hallmark card.
No matter. It is a pleasant, undemanding movie that takes place over 18 hours on V-Day and considers Very Attractive People whose romantic destinies converge, diverge, and cloverleaf like the interstates threading through California's Southland.
They include Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Queen Latifah, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift as a cross-section of the city's population.
Given veteran MacLaine and newbie Swift (Grammy-winning pop powerhouse), the actor demographics make this a movie that appeals equally to grandparents and grandchildren - not to mention the sandwich generation in between.
And given its 57 varieties of love - spousal, maternal, puppy, straight, gay, faithful, and adulterous - it appeals to a wide range of romantic proclivities.
The film's narrative engine is the affable Kutcher as Reed, a florist whose shop delivers roses - and not a few thorns - to other characters. A romantic who proposes to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) on Valentine's Day, Reed believes love is a truly radical act. This is one of the many homilies purveyed by Fugate's script, based on a story by He's Just Not That Into You scribes Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein.
With its FTD-arranged flowers and chocolate-box accents, this valentine betrays a manufactured rather than handcrafted quality, but is redeemed by its actors. Apart from Kutcher, Marshall elicits the best performances from Hathaway (his Princess Diaries protegee), as an aspiring actress with a curious sideline, and Foxx, unusually loose as a television sportscaster assigned a Valentine's Day fluff piece. (Note to parents: There is a subplot about teenagers planning to relieve themselves of their virginity.)
Students of pop culture will appreciate that Lautner, who runs through most of New Moon with torso bared, makes a joke about not liking to be seen shirtless. And that Roberts, who in Marshall's Pretty Woman takes a famous shopping trip down Rodeo Drive, makes a joke about Beverly Hills retail during the film's credit sequence. That's not art, folks. That's self-referential entertainment.