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Valentine's Day: Heartache tonight

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Like the holiday it celebrates (cheapens?), Valentine's Day is made for couples, which perhaps explains the fastidious casting of twofers throughout its principal roster. There are two actors from Grey's Anatomy (Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane), two from That '70s Show (Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace), two from Alias (Jennifer Garner, Bradley Cooper), two named Jessica (Alba, Biel), two named Taylor (Lautner, Swift), two from the Roberts clan (Julia, Emma), and other convenient couplings. It's more exhausting to track than any conceivable game of Six Degrees of Separation.

With such a wide range of talent on view (Shirley MacLaine and Julia Roberts on the high end, Jessica Alba and Emma Roberts on the low), it's not surprising that the performances are all over the map almost as much as a screenplay that finds the connecting thread between roughly a dozen stories and then proceeds to tie them all together with one unseemly bow. And as is often the case with anthology-style works, some segments work better than others: I could have used more scenes with Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper (as strangers sitting together on an airplane) or with Anne Hathaway and Topher Grace (as a phone-sex provider and her unsuspecting boyfriend), and less with Jessica Biel (as a lonely woman who hates the holiday) or with the Taylors (as lovestruck high school kids). Jennifer Garner is fine as a trusting teacher who's being duped by her married lover (Patrick Dempsey), but she unfortunately has to spend ample screen time with Ashton Kutcher (as her best friend), who seems incapable of walking and acting at the same time.

Were Valentine's Day not such a tissue-thin confection, its underlying content might be troubling. For example, a kiss between an interracial couple is seen not directly but on a fuzzy television monitor, while a smooch between two homosexuals is presented off-camera. Meanwhile, the only two characters not involved whatsoever in all the lovey-dovey exploits are both overweight women (Kathy Bates and Queen Latifah). With its cast of young and old, veteran and novice, the demographically friendly Valentine's Day boldly asserts that it's a film made for everyone, but look closely and you'll find a center as squishy as that of a melted chocolate caramel nougat.

 

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