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Movie Review

Valentine's Day

My starry Valentine: Romantic comedy delivers a bouquet of big names but not much else

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / February 12, 2010

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Love, we’ve been told, means never having to say you’re sorry. So please don’t ask Garry Marshall to apologize for the two-hour traffic jam that calls itself “Valentine’s Day.’’ Thank him, instead, for getting together so many performers in the name of epic cuteness. There are tabloid fixtures (Jessica Alba! Jessica Biel! The teen wolf from “New Moon’’!), TV people (George Lopez, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane), talented actors (Anne Hathaway, Hector Elizondo), a talented songwriter (Taylor Swift), and Oscar winners (Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates, and Shirley MacLaine).

There are about five shots of dogs, at least 20 times as many shots of flowers, and some of the worst acting by a child you’ll see. All the pink on screen will inspire thoughts of carnations or Pepto Bismol. Greeting cards belch Percy Sledge songs, and Swift drags a giant stuffed bear through all her scenes.

For those who prefer their romantic comedy in bulk, this is a steal. But attention Costco shoppers: Quantity here runs a distant second to quality. Which is not to say there’s no savings. This is many lousy movies for the price of one.

You might not volunteer to see a film in which Ashton Kutcher, as the owner of a flower-delivery company, pops the question to Alba’s careerist. But perhaps you’d endure it if it came with a side story, about, say, how well the likable Taylor Lautner can tolerate the adorably gawky Swift or how desperate Jennifer Garner is to surprise her lover (Dempsey) only to be surprised herself.

Who ends up with whom tends to be telegraphed from the first scene of Katherine Fugate’s uninspired screenplay. Loosely tying it together is Foxx as a love-phobic TV sports reporter whose boss (Bates) wants him to hit the streets to cover Valentine’s Day. Will he get roped into the drama involving a washed-up quarterback (Dane), his jaded publicist (Biel), and even more jaded manager (Queen Latifah)? Of course, he will.

Garner is Biel’s buddy. Hathaway is Latifah’s assistant. And Topher Grace is the man Hathaway’s been sleeping with for the past two weeks, and, no, he isn’t aware that she works as a phone sex operator.

Bradley Cooper and Roberts are seatmates on a flight to Los Angeles. She wears a military uniform, but he doesn’t seem interested in her service. We’re meant to believe he’s trying to pick her up, and she’s with someone. But the movie withholds the sort of defining details that would normally pass between two strangers because it would ruin the twist in store for later. In any case, the movie cuts away from their conversations so fast and so frequently that it’s hard to know what they’ve discussed.

A bored audience might be inspired to notice that “Valentine’s Day’’ is like a science experiment combining the antic assortment of Angelenos in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts’’ with the high-fructose corn syrup of Richard Curtis’s “Love Actually.’’ The resulting entity is less than the sum of the movies it evokes. And those aching to see Angelenos of color and with body fat might find themselves longing for “Crash,’’ even against their better judgment. (The ethnics here have all the body fat but very little of the romance.)

Standing in for the natural disaster that concludes “Short Cuts’’ are epiphanies that measure 9.5 on the I Think I Love You scale.

At 75, Marshall is still hooked on a blend of broad comedy and big schmaltz. Anyone born after 1970 could be forgiven for assuming he invented it. On television, he created “Happy Days,’’ “Laverne & Shirley,’’ and “Mork & Mindy.’’ As a director, he’s given us “The Flamingo Kid,’’ “Nothing in Common,’’ “Overboard,’’ “Beaches,’’ “Pretty Woman,’’ “Frankie and Johnny,’’ “Dear God,’’ “The Other Sister,’’ “Runaway Bride,’’ “The Princess Diaries,’’ “Raising Helen,’’ and “Georgia Rule.’’

He uses cheap sight gags, crummy jokes, and unnecessary reaction shots to make programmatic writing seem more obvious than it already is. But often his schmaltz sells. This is partly because Marshall is an endearing softie and one of the very last men in Hollywood who believes women are funny, too. His lack of cynicism allows him to feed us bromides, sentimentality, and happy endings not so much because it’s what he thinks we want but because it’s what he believes. He enjoys a big laugh. But like some of the women who adore his movies, he loves a good cry even more.

“Valentine’s Day’’ is unruly but oddly juvenile. Like the substitute-teacher version of Altman, Marshall lets everybody go wild in the absence of authority. This cheeky uncle vibe can work for him, as it does in part of “The Princess Diaries.’’ But in lieu of real affection, Marshall has pumped the movie full of shameless symbols (an adulterer who juggles, a heart-shaped piñata), bad puns, and inside-showbiz connections. Kutcher has punked a few of his costars. Roberts and Cooper did a Broadway play together, the title of which the captain of their flight announces. Lautner, whose shirtless “Twilight’’ work has made people gasp, winkingly tells Swift he’d like to keep his clothes on. Foxx has worked with Garner (in “The Kingdom’’) and with Biel (in “Stealth’’). And the majestic MacLaine stands before a projection of herself in 1958’s “Hot Spell.’’

Some might see movie love in all this trivial interconnection. I experienced an evening out with the Internet Movie Database.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, this review of "Valentine's Day" in the Feb. 12 "g" section named the wrong singer whose voice is heard from a greeting card. Percy Sledge is the singer.

Correction: An earlier version of this review of the film "Valentine's Day" misstated the singer of "When a Man Loves a Woman." It is Percy Sledge.

VALENTINE’S DAY Directed by: Garry Marshall

Written by: Katherine Fugate

Starring: Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift, and Shirley MacLaine

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 125 minutes

PG-13 (some sexual material and brief partial nudity)

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