Garry Marshall’s star-studded new romantic comedy Valentine’s Day explores love in all its myriad forms, from the sickeningly sappy to the cornball to the groaningly precious and obnoxiously cute. The veteran filmmaker and television guru previously transformed subject matter like S&M pleasure islands (Exit To Eden) and prostitution (Pretty Woman) into goofy, crowd-pleasing pabulum. So when Marshall is given a big Sweetest Day Hallmark card of a screenplay like Katherine Fugate’s overstuffed aggregation of saccharine rom-com clichés, there’s no chance audiences will leave the film with their heartstrings unplucked.
Ashton Kutcher leads a sprawling, wildly overqualified cast as the world’s nicest, most romantic man, a successful florist/real-life Cupid whose job lets him interact with a wide variety of broadly drawn types throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The film’s roster of lovestruck and lovelorn goofs include a daffy young woman (Anne Hathaway) who tries to keep her job as a phone-sex operator a secret from her unsuspecting boyfriend (Topher Grace). (No small feat when she has to sneak out and service her clients during their dates!) Then there’s luckless single gal Jennifer Garner, a middle-school teacher with a very married boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey, extending his range by playing a handsome doctor) and Jessica Biel, who devolves into a nightmare spiral of chocoholism because she can’t lure a fellow into her mantrap on Valentine’s Day.
Haphazardly toss in 15 more subplots, half a dozen wacky canine-reaction shots, a wall-to-wall soundtrack of romantic golden oldies, and an adorable young moppet who just wants to have flowers delivered to the girl of his dreams, and you have a fluffy soufflé of shameless sentiment and sitcom wackiness executed with the kind of flailing desperation that’s generally accompanied by an overactive laugh track. Valentine’s Day looks like Marshall’s director’s magnum opus of pandering schlock. Decades into his career, he’s finally achieved his lifelong dream of roping half of Hollywood into helping him make an unofficial cinematic adaptation of Love, American Style.