In this tapestry of minor plots, some threads hold up better than others. Anne Hathaway and Topher Grace make one of the more engaging couples (Liz and Jason), who after spending a wild night together, struggle to put their relationship onto a firmer footing. The situation is made a tad more complicated by Liz's secret double-life as a phone sex operator, and though this isn't the most daring or original twist, their rapport compensates for that. Their vague awkwardness together is cleverly juiced over dinner in a restaurant where they're literally rubbing shoulders.
Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher (as Julia and Reed) are old childhood buddies clearly destined for something more when it turns out that Julia's hunky boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey of TV's Grey's Anatomy) is married with a child. As the flower salesman who must deliver bouquets to both women, Reed tortures himself with whether to spill the beans and meanwhile fails to notice that his new fiancée (a sulky Jessica Alba) is having second thoughts about their own relationship. There is nothing intrinsically funny about the situation, but again, it's the goofy charms of Kutcher and Garner, and their sincere approach, which lights up the screen.
Sadly, there are other more intriguing characters who aren't lavished with as much attention by the director. Jessica Biel plays a neurotic publicist who barely has a moment to breathe (she hyperventilates over lunch) let alone sell herself to suave sports journo Kelvin (Jamie Foxx). Their 'coming together' becomes a slapstick farce with no sense of what makes either person tick, or why they'd make a good couple. In fact, they have no chemistry. It doesn't help that Biel has a permanently glazed expression that gives nothing away. Just as vacuous are the two Taylors (Lautner and Swift; the former of Twilight fame), but they're at least playing it for laughs as two all-American teens who are just, like, in love and stuff...
There's a conscious - if not, self-conscious - effort to appeal to all ages. Another strand centres on a little boy's first infatuation, whilst, at the other end of the spectrum, there is Hollywood veteran Shirley MacLaine who hides a guilty secret from her husband of umpteen years played by Hector Elizondo (aka the concierge in Pretty Woman). It's a nifty bit of casting for MacLaine who gets to do her sassy and sensitive routine. Conversely, Julia Roberts plays down her cutesy image as a soldier returning from a tour of duty in one of the more surprising subplots. Inevitably, all of these stories merge neatly in the end, but it's a soft impact. Marshall directs like a giddy Cupid, spreading the joy thinly among the multitudes. Still, if we learn anything from this Valentine's movie, it's that even a bit of what you fancy does you good.
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