Gary Marshall's ensemble romantic comedy Valentine's Day is the cinematic equivalent of those one-dollar single roses and the heart-shaped four-piece chocolate sampler boxes that always materialize on pharmacy check-out counters and gas stations in the week before February 14th.
Following over a dozen different characters throughout L.A. over the course of the title holiday, the movie is chock-full of characters we recognize immediately. There's the guy and girl best friends (Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner) who you know will eventually realize they're actually soul mates, there's the overly articulate blond fourth-grade boy who pines for a classmate, there's the supposedly tough-as-nails career woman (Jessica Biel) who never misses the chance to rant about the stupidity of Valentine's Day but wants nothing more than to be swept up in romance, and there's the loving elderly couple (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) who reveal secrets from the past and must learn to forgive in order to teach us all about the enduring power and value of love. These characters, and so many more, don't so much tell a story as go through the paces of storylines cribbed from innumerable other -- and much better -- movies.
Sure, the cast is game, and there are some pleasant moments. Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway are genuinely charming together as, respectively, a wide-eyed innocent from Indiana and an ambitious young woman moonlighting as a phone sex operator. Plus, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper have a series of warm, friendly exchanges during the course of 13-hour plan ride that will make you smile. But smiling is about the best response Gary Marshall is going to get from an audience with a film this trite and familiar. This is not the film you go see with the grand love of your life. It's a movie you'll forget as quickly as you forget whoever gave you that six-inch stuffed bear holding a heart.