Empty Gesture

A film that shoots for “Love Actually” and falls 11 months short, director Garry Marshall’s latest is a mess of flowers, chocolate, heartache and migraine. Set in the not-so romantic city of Los Angeles, “Valentine’s Day” wanders from one cookie-cutter character to the next, wrapping exhausted viewers in a web of indistinguishable plotlines too haphazard and sticky-sweet to follow.

The star-studded cast is lead by Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner — the former playing a florist who just proposed to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) and the latter an elementary school teacher dating a two-timing doctor (Patrick Dempsey).

Garner’s character, Julia Fitzpatrick — whose name you won’t remember — is invited to an anti-Valentine’s Day party by her friend (Jessica Biel), who works for a woman named Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah). Thomas’ company represents sports star Sean Jackson (Eric Dane), constantly being pestered by a sports newscaster (Jaime Foxx) for an interview.

Confused yet? There’s more.

Liz (Anne Hathaway) works as an assistant in aforementioned office — that is, when she’s not moonlighting as a phone-sex operator or schmoozing with her boyfriend (Topher Grace). And even though those plots and people were probably enough to keep you puzzled for a week, the film also stars Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper, whose characters spend the duration of the film flirting on an airplane.

If you weren’t already vomiting “Exorcist”-style at the thought of this Hollywood circle-jerk, Marshall squeezes in some tween “Juno” romance to get the acids churning, guaranteed. Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play the quintessential virginal couple hoping to do it for the first time, while Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner bat eyelashes by the lockers.

Accepting a role alongside the rest of the A-list is usually a good move, but each actor suffers from severe lack of screen time in “Valentine’s Day,” making it impossible for any of the film’s talent to reach its full potential. It’s only during the romantic comedy’s closing outtakes that the cast is finally able to demonstrate the humorous geniality that was stifled by the schizophrenic plot.

With some heavy editing, a more selective casting director and fewer excruciating tales of the nightmares of dating, there may have been breathing room for sympathy — even enjoyment. Instead, we’re constantly reminded that Hollywood has far too much money, and beauty, for its own good.

And, although Kutcher and Garner’s charismatic personalities make up for their short bursts of time on screen, the film’s cheesy premise, terrible dialogue and pretty-face overkill are sure to make this holiday bust a one-weekend wonder.

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