If nothing else, “Valentine’s Day” shows you how to spend the romantic day with sanity and dignity and be in Los Angeles.
You’ve got to do what Julia Roberts’ character, Kate, does — fly. By that, I mean Kate spends almost all her screen time consuming air miles, on her way to Los Angeles, but never actually being there, chatting pleasantly to her handsome next-seat neighbor and getting extra bags of pretzels from the stewardess.
Believe me, she manages to have the best time of everyone in the movie. She naps, she shows a card trick or two, she goes to the restroom (inexplicably spacious despite her economy-class ticket) near the end of the flight to put on moisturizer and change into something relaxed and expensive. Thousands of kilometers beneath her on the ground, human beings claw and clamp at each other in the mad, ridiculous rush to do something romantic on Valentine’s Day. Yuck.
The theme of “Valentine’s Day” has regrettably but rapidly become the trend in recent rom-coms — the long and winding ensemble production. The population density per square celluloid meter is such that it practically feels like a 1970s documentary on Asia; “China’s Faceless Masses” or something. All those people are supposed to make up in numbers what’s lacking in content and well, as we all know, that’s one of the surefire indicators of a bad party.
Directed by Garry Marshall (the guy forever credited for immortalizing Julia Roberts’ legs in “Pretty Woman,” which if you’ll recall, set chick-flick standards of the ’90s in gold bullion), “Valentine’s Day” is a rather obvious attempt to transport the basic elements of the 2003 blockbuster “Love Actually” from Christmas in London to palm-treed and pool-studded L.A. Now, “Love Actually” is a movie everyone loves to love. In my neighborhood anyone professing to hate it is immediately labeled a cranky, creepy mysogynistic grouch. So, though you can’t blame Marshall for trying, what worked in Richard Curtis’ English crowdpleaser is just so not happening at his location spots on Venice Beach.
Apart from Roberts who very sensibly appears in only three settings: plane, airport, and a brief house scene, you just don’t want to know any of the people in the long, long cast list as they gallivant around on the freeway, the lobby of the Beverly Wiltshire, in front of Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall. (Admittedly, you do get to know your way around the city.)
There’s Ashton Kutcher as the owner of a fashionable florist, who doesn’t know diddly squat about flowers. Jennifer Garner plays his best friend, Julia, who dares to teach grade school in painfully pointy high heels. Jessica Alba is Reed’s girlfriend — one of those cinema babes who rises in the morning clad in many coats of perfect makeup and precision extensions. Jamie Foxx looks like he wants to kick himself (or his agent) for ever signing up for the role of sportscaster Kelvin, harassed by his boss (Kathy Bates) to host a special Valentine’s Day program “full of passion and romance and love!” In the meantime, American football star Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) is holding an emergency news conference to announce his gayness. His agent, Kara (Jessica Biel), has a nervous breakdown on her treadmill (set up in her office) while popping designer chocolates. So far, so L.A. cliche.
What’s sad is seeing the likes of Anne Hathaway being treated like a wad of tissue in a series of brief, throw-away scenes, then pouncing on a guy (Topher Grace) to shriek ecstatically that she’s really into “makeup sex.” What’s agonizing is to see Queen Latifah sit out 99 percent of her screen time in front of an office desk with a limp sandwich for company.
And through all of this there’s Kate, serenely poised in flight, and after a teensy, momentary bit of unpleasantness at the baggage carousel (a brief, split-second of reality), being driven home in a nice, polished limo by a gentlemanly driver in a suit. The driver asks politely whether she’s ever shopped on Rodeo Drive (wink, wink — with Garry Marshall) and she says bemusedly: “I did actually. Once. That was a big mistake.” Now she tells us.