A throwback to the myriad 1980s slasher flicks with holiday titles, “Valentine” comes from the director who gave you “Urban Legend,” and true to his surname he’s once again shooting blanks. It’s hard to believe that it took a novelist (one Tom Savage) and no fewer than four screenwriters to come up with nothing more than a pale xerox copy of all those post-“Halloween” cheapies of twenty years ago in which some masked bogeyman is presumed to be systematically slaughtering the now grown-up classmates who had once tormented him in grade school; but that’s all we’ve got here. (Such was the hoary premise behind “Legend,” too, you’ll remember.) It’s equally astonishing that in an age positively drenched in self-referential irony, when “Scream” and “Scary Movie” have sent up all the cliches of this genre, the makers have the guts to play this hokey stuff straight, hoping to generate chills through a series of killings staged with increasingly ludicrous ghoulishness. There are jokes, to be sure, but they’re of the snide, punctuating variety, as when the Jamie Lee Curtis character of Kate (played now by Marley Shelton) says of her boyfriend Adam (portrayed by David Boreanaz with the same sullen angst that he brings to his TV series), “He’s no angel, but he’s no murderer.” That’s hardly the stuff of smart satire or even of raunchy mocking. Maybe the idea was that this kind of old-fashioned flick could be dusted off and made profitable again with a bigger budget, in the same way that “Alien” managed to create a silk purse from the sow’s ear that was “It! The Terror From Beyond Space.” Big mistake.
Anyway, what “Valentine” is about are five twenty-something catty-but-faithful friends (Shelton’s sweet Kate, Denise Richards’ sultry Paige, Jessica Capshaw’s tubby Dorothy, Jessica Cauffiel’s ditsy Lily, and Katherine Heigl’s Shelly–a med school student who’s offed too quickly even to have a characteristic) who are suddenly being hunted and murdered around February 14 by a black-robed figure wearing a plastic cherub’s mask; it’s soon suspected that the stalker is a kid whom the girls so mistreated at a sixth-grade dance thirteen years earlier that the experience drove him insane. There’s no shortage of guys around who might be the fellow, of course–not only Boreanaz’s Adam, an alcoholic reporter with whom Kate enjoys an on-again, off-again romance, but also Daniel Cosgrove’s Campbell, a pretty-boy rogue who’s taking Dorothy for a ride; Johnny Whitworth’s Max, a video artist who’s Lily’s current squeeze; Woody Jeffreys’ Brian, a brief-encounter type who’s hot for Paige; Joel Palmer’s Jeremy, a student who was with Shelley shortly before her demise; and several others–but attempts to throw suspicion on them create no suspense whatsoever, since the killer mows down pretty much anyone and everyone indiscriminately and, typically for this kind of flick, is always several steps ahead of each potential victim even while nobody (least of all the smirking cop put on the case, played here by Fulvio Cecere) seems to notice the bloody corpses piling up all over the place. One also tires quickly of Blanks’ overuse of the most hackneyed devices of the genre: the first time that a figure jumps out of the shadows to scare somebody, to the accompaniment of a loud thwacking noise on the soundtrack, you might jump, but at the seventh or eighth occurrence you’re more likely to yawn or laugh in derision. The murder scenes are ostentatiously baroque but never frightening, and the structure of the slaughters seems absolutely chaotic. (Abandon all logic, ye who enter here.) And when the big revelations come at the end, they certainly rate an eleven on a Prepostero-Meter with a scale of ten.
A cast of Oliviers and Hepburns couldn’t do anything with this material, but the assorted overaged ingenues and preening studs on display here are especially pallid. Richards tries hard to be lusciously sexy, but comes nowhere near her turn in “Wild Things,” and Shelton plays the dumb blonde all too credibly. (Counting “Sugar & Spice,” this is her second bomb in as many weeks. Perhaps she needs a new agent.) On the evidence here, Boreanaz would be wise not to leave his small-screen gig. Cauffiel, meantime, comes across as a bargain-basement version of Martha Plimpton, and Capshaw as a Tori Spelling wannabe. Cruel, perhaps, but true.
Maybe you can wring some chuckles out of “Valentine” if you take it as a deadpan spoof (there’s one moment involving a smashed liquor bottle near the close that should extract a laugh from almost anyone), but that’s giving the picture far more credit than it deserves. This is one heart-shaped holiday package that should definitely be returned to sender unopened.