Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 125 minutes
Starring: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel and Bradley Cooper. Now playing at the West Theater.
One of moviedom’s more enduring quotations has to do with life being compared to a container of confectionary sweets.
“Life is like a box of chocolates” is a pretty appropriate analogy for the romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day,” except the lesson of “you never know what you’re gonna get” is replaced with a moral more along the lines of “too much sugar in one sitting can make you nauseous depending on your tolerance.”
Granted, one is catchier than the other.
Feb. 14 inspires a variety of responses from people worldwide, and the denizens of Los Angeles are no exception.
As the proprietor of an L.A. floral shop, Reed (Ashton Kutcher) knows this better than anybody, but this Valentine’s Day is special for him because of his girlfriend Morley’s (Jessica Alba) acceptance of his early morning marriage proposal.
But you don’t have to be in the flower industry to see the effects of the day of love, as Reed’s best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner) celebrates her relationship with suave doctor, Harrison (Patrick Dempsey), unaware that he is married. Cupid’s handiwork holds just as many surprises both good and bad for couples across the city, from a pair of lovey-dovey teens (Taylor Lautner, Taylor Swift) to a couple (Hector Elizondo, Shirley MacLaine) who have been married for more than 50 years.
And as one of the most beloved and hated days of the year goes on, break-ups, hook-ups and other relational developments make up the typical Valentine’s Day.
The huge all-star cast’s pairings can best be condensed to roughly five major couples, none of whom are all too different. Besides Kutcher, Alba, Garner and Dempsey — the two of which yield different outcomes by the end of the day — we also see a pair that comes together in their mutual loathing of Valentine’s Day in publicist Kara (Jessica Biel) and sportscaster Kelvin (Jamie Foxx), as well as the burgeoning courtship between small-town boy Jason (Topher Grace) and poet/multi-accented phone sex worker Liz (Anne Hathaway).
Then there’s Elizondo and MacLaine as Edgar and Estelle, the oldest members of this lineup, bringing a touch of class to an unbearably young cast, which isn’t to say that the juvenile actors on screen don’t have their own charms. Real-life couple Swift and Lautner expectedly are dorky in their roles as fawning high school sweethearts, but Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins are more relatable as another teenaged duo, who are considering having sex for the first time.
The youngest character is one of the best, with Bryce Robinson unbelievably cute as Edgar and Estelle’s grandson, Edison, deeply in love with his fifth-grade teacher, who just happens to be Julia.
The intertwining of multiple storylines gets so complicated at times, you’ll need to reference a scorecard to remember who’s together, who’s been together and who remains on the sidelines for most of the movie.
These snags are partly because of the overabundance of big name stars, many of whom are cast in tiny roles. When talents like Kathy Bates, Eric Dane, Queen Latifah and George Lopez barely are needed at all, it becomes painfully obvious that the story needs trimming.
Likewise, Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts have an almost ghostly presence as a pair of strangers who meet on a plane coming into LAX. Still, have patience for they do have a purpose in the plot.
Director Garry Marshall wants to have it all in this ensemble setup, but he does a poor job of developing many of the individual characters, depending on his actors to fill in the blanks. But star power actually works for the most part, as the imposing cast gives it their all in turning a very generic, overextended premise into something reasonably sweet and easy to take.
Sure, the large-scale look at L.A. lives is nothing compared to “Short Cuts” or “Magnolia,” but then again, Marshall shoots for a much different fan base than Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson.
How you respond to “Valentine’s Day” will probably depend on your tolerance for the title holiday. But much like the similar Christmas setup in “Love Actually,” sometimes you’ve just got to get swept up in the festivities in spite of yourself.
Now playing at the West Theatre.