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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


You can thank (or blame) the success of He's Just Not That Into You for the existence of Valentine's Day. After the film became a surprise hit, Hollywood was eager to assemble another star-studded romantic comedy with converging subplots. Valentine's Day is even more packed with stars than its predecessor; half of Hollywood seems to be in the cast. It also did very well in theaters and, with its release on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 18, audiences looking for such entertainment will be sated until the release of the next picture in the emerging genre, New Year's Eve.

The movie, directed by Garry Marshall, follows a group of Los Angeles residents as they celebrate the most romantic day of the year. (Or the least romantic, depending on how you choose to look at it.) There's a newly-engaged couple (Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba); a teacher (Jennifer Garner) having an affair with a married man (Patrick Dempsey); a sports star (Eric Dane) revealing a secret about his sexuality; an elderly couple (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) grappling with late-term marriage woes; a high school couple (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift) experiencing young love; a single woman (Anne Hathaway) trying to hide her part-time job as a phone sex operator from her new boyfriend (Topher Grace); a soldier (Julia Roberts) sharing a plane ride with a stranger (Bradley Cooper); a teen girl (Emma Roberts) trying to decide whether to lose her virginity; a dateless loser (Jessica Biel) throwing an anti-Valentine's Day party; a talent agent (Queen Latifah) who puts work before personal; a sports reporter (Jamie Foxx) forced to cover a story he doesn't want to; and a florist's assistant (George Lopez) who dispenses romantic advice.

I think you can probably tell from that last paragraph what the major flaw of Valentine's Day is. With so many stars and so many subplots jammed into two hours, the film has all the emotional depth of an episode of "The Love Boat" or "Love, American Style." Everything that happens is, by nature, shallow and predictable because the screenplay has no time for anything of substance to happen; it's always rushing off to the next thing. Personally, I'd rather see a great romantic comedy about one couple than a mediocre romantic comedy about twelve couples.

This is not to say that Valentine's Day doesn't offer some fun. I thought Anne Hathaway came off best, managing to give a charming, well-rounded performance given her limited screen time. Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner ring up a few nice moments as well, most notably one in which he tries to stop her from making a major Life Mistake. And who knew that Taylor Swift could be funny? She is - stealing a bit of thunder from some of her more notable co-stars.

There are certainly some laughs and some nice moments here. I found Valentine's Day to be pleasant, harmless viewing. However, the fact remains that movies of this sort are limited from the get-go, simply by virtue of the fact that they have too many plates spinning at one time. If you're in the mood for a film that is amiable-but-weightless, this will do the trick. If you feel like watching a romantic comedy that will actually mean something to you, better to stick with one that's more inherently focused.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Valentine's Day is available on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on May 18. It's also available on demand via digital cable, satellite TV, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. You may also download it via iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand.

The Blu-Ray extras begin with audio commentary from director Garry Marshall (always an amusing raconteur). Marshall also provides introductions for the 14 deleted scenes. They're uniformly inconsequential to the film, which the director himself points out.

"The Stars Confess Their Valentine's Day Stories" has several cast members reminiscing about their own stories about Feb. 14. This feature is mildly amusing, although none of the participants offer anything really juicy.

"The Garry Factor" has the same actors talking about Marshall and why they wanted to work with him (or, in the case of Roberts and Hathaway, work with him again). While he's made his share of hits (Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries) and misses (Dear God, Exit to Eden), it's clear that Marshall has earned the respect of actors all along.

The gag reel is surprisingly unfunny, as it mostly consists of actors cracking up at themselves. The piece takes a slight turn for the better when different stars attempt to imitate Garry Marshall.

Finally, there's a music video for Jewel's theme song, "Stay Here Forever." I've always liked Jewel; her song is sweet, and the video is a nice addition here.

A digital copy of Valentine's Day comes on the disc as well, as does the trailer for Sex and the City 2.

Valentine's Day is rated PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 6 minutes.

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