Monday, January 25, 2010

Valentine (USA, 2001)

(Spoilers) Director Jamie Blank returns for his second go at a by-the-numbers bodycount film entitled My Bloody Valentine....Oops. Wrong title. That was a bad splatter film from the golden age of bodycount films that just got a decent 3-D makeover for its 2009 remake. This film, just entitled Valentine, is simply an oddly misogynistic bodycounter (for and) from 2001 featuring the traditional unknown nutzo stalking young twenty-somethings. As equally traditional and derivative as Blanks' first feature-length film Urban Legend (1998 / trailer), the biggest surprise in Valentine is Blank's sudden directorial ability. The story in itself is unoriginal, predictable and uninspired, but Blank manages to infuse the film with competent, if not at times interesting direction. He has discovered that cameras can move, points of view can change, rhythm can be constructed, tension can build and be built, framing is important—basically, unlike in Urban Legend, the man actually seems to direct this time around. This and a cast of mostly sympathetic, likable and emotionally understandable good-looking babes helps make the uninspired retread of 1980s teen slasher films bearable, if not entertaining at times. (As to be expected of this type of film, however, while tension is occasionally present, true scares seldom are.)
In general, the attractive cast do a good job in their limited roles, the jerks being proper jerks, the babes being hot babes. David Boreanaz, famous for his role as the vampire Angle from Buffy the Vampire Killer and its spin-off Angle (and now as some FBI agent in his current show Bones) is almost too realistic for his roll as the alcoholic ex-boyfriend on the wagon. He seems to developing an alcohol bloat similar to that of Ray Liotta, but is easily half the latter's age. Denise Richards is perfectly cast as the bone-hardener of the flick, but in a bikini she really is beginning to look, well, unhealthy. (Eat something, child.) The rest of the gals might be a bit less hot stuff, but they look as if they’d be more fun to actually hold, squeeze and…well, you know.
The script is less than exceptional, to say the least. Based on a novel by Tom Savage, it is hard to believe that four different authors were needed to cobble together a script as predictable as this one. Did each author have one idea and a five-word vocabulary? As it is, they did manage a script with a beginning and an end, some action in between and decent characterization, but to say that the movie is either halfway logical or believable would be a lie. But then, this is not a film in which the story should be closely scrutinized, it is a film to be watched only to see one person after the other die.

Valentine is also one of the most blatantly misogynist, women-hating bodycount films in years. Odd how such a subversively ironic film as Mother's Day (1980 / trailer) could be taken to the river for misogynistic sexism back when it was released (and still retain the reputation today) when it in every way was and is a much more faceted, sarcastic and intelligent film than Valentine, which basically serves no purpose other than to collect a variety of beautiful woman (and a few good looking men) and kill them one by one. The saving grace of Valentine's script is that the five lead woman, as briefly as some are on the screen, are all likable and understandable people, their desire and search for love (or sex) making them much more human than the average bimbo victim. It is the men in this movie that all come across as brainless, heartless dorks, all being much less likable and more conniving than any of the women. Despite the derogatory characterization of the men in general, the film retains a woman-hating tone in that it is the terror and deaths of the women that is focused on, while the men who die do so relatively quickly or off-screen and with little or no advance terrorization. Much like the identity of the killer in Urban Legend, it doesn't take long for the viewer to figure out who is killing who, so the supposed "double-surprise ending" surprises less than it does annoy.
In the true tradition of the 80s and most slashers since, Valentine opens with a short sequence similar to that found in films such as the original Prom Night (1980 / trailer) and Terror Train (1980 / trailer) in which the trauma that motivates the future killer is revealed, in this case the demeaning abuse faced by a child loser in the hands of classmates. It also introduces the big clue to the killer's identity: a bloody nose.
Some 15 years later, not only have all the spurning girls involved developed into vivacious and curvaceous babes, but since not one of them has moved away they are all still great friends. As Valentine rolls around, they all get sadistic valentine cards indicating that they are not loved by all. After a date from hell with one of the red herrings of the movie, Shelley Fisher (Katherine Heigl) is the first one to go. Ruthie (Hedy Burress) gets it bad at an art opening, and along the way a panty fetishist and some other guy bite the dust, the killer popping up at the most unexpected places. It is at Dorothy Wheeler's (Jessica Capshaw) big party that the bodies start to pile up, as the killer is seemingly less bent on revenge than simply killing everyone he can. Anorexic wild thing Paige Prescott (Denise Richards) gets drilled and electrocuted in a jacuzzi, some pissed-off bitch gets her throat impaled on glass shards and a police detective loses his head.
The party setting must be taken in stride, for the killer sure seems to chase people around a lot empty corridors and rooms for a house full of a hundred people, and it is hardly believable that all guests would leave en-mass just cause the electricity (and music and lights, of course) go out. (In my day it was the alcohol and drugs that mattered, but perhaps times have changed.) The good girl of the flick, Kate Davies (Marley Shelton) gets to run around and scream a lot before seemingly being saved by her alcoholic ex Adam Carr (David Boreanz). Of course, a film like this cannot end properly without a twist...

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