Valentine's Day posterRed lightAt some point in the not too distant past someone in Hollywood got a fat bonus, a hearty pat on the back and instant respect from his peers for inventing a brilliant way of advertising when new films arrive at the cinema. Wait for it: you simply name the production after its release date! Brilliant! And if the film isn’t released on that exact day, at least people will know when they can stroll up and buy a ticket.

Disasterpiece director Roland Emmerich employed the technique with Independence Day, aka ID4, and it went rather swimmingly well – so much so that he tried it twice more but misfired considerably. 10,000 BC advertised a release date a wee bit earlier than your average cinemagoer could feasibly get to, and 2012, while more plausible, arrived three years early (it was released in 2009).

Nobody needs to explain when Valentine’s Day will be available in cinemas for your viewing pleasure, if your idea of viewing pleasure equals a smaltzy dramatically inept rom-com with an unaccountably large array of characters played by an ensemble of underperforming celebs, including (deep breath) Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway and Ashton Kutcher.

A plot synopsis would be long, exhausting and pointless, so let’s just say that a bunch of people get together on Valentine’s Day. Some date, some get engaged, some have relationship tiffs, one comes out of the closet and one – to protect her identity we shall call her “Queen Latifah” – plays against type (ahem) as a large, loud, boisterous ball breaker. The story tediously criss-crosses between them. Ashton Kutcher proves once again that he can’t act. Or, if he can, he does a masterful job faking it.

The film is set over one day, so veteran tissue box director Garry Marshall (Beaches, Runaway Pride, Pretty Woman etcetera) relies on plenty of characters to keep the ball rolling. There are at least three or four too many and the pace flops between them. If there is a protagonist it is the freshly engaged Reed (Ashton Kutcher) but, like all the characters, he disappears for huge slabs of the running time and just when you’re resigned (read: pleased) to never see him again he sidles up once more. The characters make small bursts of appearances then drift off the frame, the cast given inordinately long toilet breaks because the screenwriters seem perpetually uncertain which character to trundle out next. With such a huge cast all vying for time, the effect is like watching a bunch of seagulls fighting over a chip.

Valentine’s Day kicks off with an especially awkward pace as Marshall preliminarily outlines his many pencil-thin characters before it finds some traction somewhere around the middle then peters away into a particularly onerous last act: slow, soppy and groan-inducing, like the Hallmark corporation directed its first motion picture. The big mystery is how the cast got so big and what drew them to the script. The appeal of the film’s rather self-explanatory title only extends so far.

Valentine’s Day’s Australian theatrical release date: February 11, 2010