Monday, February 18, 2013

Valentine (2001): Jay's Movie of the Week #7

The slights of childhood tend to stick with a person. However, holding a grudge from a middle school dance and turning it into a murder spree is a tad much. Valentine was part of the post-Scream slasher revival and something of a flop. Most importantly, it's a hoot to recount for you now, complete with snark, especially on so timely an occasion (says the boy who meant to post this one day after Valentine's, not four).
Back in the sixth grade, Shelley, Lily, Paige, and Kate all shoot down super-dork Jeremy's invitation to dance, while barely tolerated social pariah (just guessing based on her later behavior) Dorothy finally accepts. When a gaggle of boys start mocking them, she smartly errs on the side of surviving the social jungle and turns on Jeremy, who winds up stripped and beaten in front of the whole school. Thirteen (and shouldn't it always be that many?) years later...

Shelly (the always-alienating Katherine Heigl) is going on the sort of ridiculously overdressed "Fancy" dates that the teen audience aimed for here would imagine for such sophisticated Med School ladies. Along with shooting down douchy guys, she also likes to expose herself to blood-borne pathogens when doing late night, darkly lit autopsy homework (which doesn't even make sense in the movie, much less in the explanation). After getting a threatening Valentine (a charming custom made card that would probably have a nice life outside of this film) from a red-herring jump-scare dude, she finds herself being stalked. After a little of the old cat and mouse, she's quickly dispatched by our cherub-masked hero, who's post-kill signature is, of all things, a nosebleed. Keep it in mind, it'll come up later.

After poor Shelly's life is reduced to a mere plot set up we then join Paige (Denise Richars) and good girl Kate (Marley Shelton) as they go on the world's most ridiculous, unrealistic speed dating event. Turns out a task that is in itself a montage lends itself fairly easily to montage. They then convene with Kate's supposedly recovering lush of an ex-boyfriend, Adam (David Boreanaz), Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), and Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) for a quick round of introductions at the funeral of the character we've already forgotten.

Dorothy gets one of the creepy valentine cards (signed JM), followed up by the arrival of red-herring potential is-he-beau-or-gigolo Campbell (Daniel Cosgrove) who wants to crash at her rich daddy's mansion. Daddy employs some bitchy maids, by the way. Her Daddy Warbucks also has a bitchy trophy wife who's about Dorothy's age (who sadly for us, never shows up again in the movie). Fitting, as Campbell comes with a Ruthie (Hedy Buress), the last girl he played for her dough. Burress seems to channel Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara in a couple memorable scenes and it's the great flaw of the movie that she doesn't get away scot-free (I'd say "spoilers" but this is a twelve year old movie that I'm recounting the entire plot of... so, yeah).

Kate, meanwhile, is clearly not the brightest bulb. When her water goes out she rinses her hair in the toilet bowl (why not use the tank?) and wanders down her apartment building 's hall in only a bath towel. She finds a creepy cherub mask and another red-herring man, her pervy neighbor. Equally dim Lily answers the door to an anonymous heart-shaped candy box. There's another morbid card and the candies are maggot-laced. After seeing stories about the flood of Twitter complaints the national florist companies suffered for botching hundreds of deliveries, I'm assuming this is a kind of unintentional prophecy. Lily and Paige start working out who the JMs might be before they finally, vaguely remember Jeremy. While recalling enough about him to feel regret for how they treated him, he remains in memory a social inferior worthy of scorn. The fact that they remember him at all is a testament to the capacity of the human soul to be generous, but an insult to bitchy queens of high school social hierarchy everywhere!

The girls convene at Lily's boyfriend Max's ultra-pretentious art opening. It comes complete with a maze, video installation, and creepy dudes. Dorothy brings Campbell, making for an laundry list of guys who could be the killer. Talk of the mask again brings up Jeremy and the dance, which seriously must have been the one defining moment in all their adolescences. Three references makes him an official trend, I mean, suspect, right?. In the maze, the girls split up and furthermore, Lily splits up with Max. She quickly finds herself alone in the malfunctioning, shudding-down maze meaning we've either had a time jump or this is a seriously enormous, Richard Serra-unulating-sheet-metal-walls-scale art installation. Our baby-faced killer takes her out with a bow and arrow, and she's finished off with a fall down an airshaft and three-point landing in a dumpster.

The remaining girls close ranks, thinking Lily is out of town, and we now rehash how horrible it was that Dorothy was an overweight teen. She's having "insecure on the inside and now so happy for the attention" happiness over this whole Campbell situation. It'd be adorable if not for the low self-esteem of it all. This unhealthy obsession with the Sixth Grade also starts bringing Kate and Adam back together. Jeremy evidently spiraled after sixth grade, quickly winding up in an asylum and losing his parents in a mysterious fire. They have an idea what he looks like, but let's just say it's nothing like Adam. The Police Detective is also busy making inappropriate plays at flirty Paige, who smartly shuts him down in a manner that makes it clear Denise Richards gets that kinda crap from men every day.

As an aside, Valentine breaks into Kate's apartment to find her creepy neighbor in it trying on Kate's panties. He clubs said perv to death with an iron, which makes perfect sense, as the bastard is stretching out what looks to be the date undies, and not the granny panties. Dorothy and Campbell find time for what looks to be some unsatisfying sex before Dorothy's big third-act Valentine's Day party. He's then outed as a little skeeve trying to steal all of Dorothy's Dad's money. Thankfully, someone in the Valentine mask puts an axe in his thieving gigolo's back after Dorothy asks him to go into the basement. It seems less a possible red herring that she's the killer than it is just a mercy killing of an obnoxious character.

Once the party starts, Dorothy is crankily filling her face with food (because that's what a former fat girl would do, right? Christ this movie is insulting) and Paige is off to bone a strange guy with big teeth. Thankfully, Toothy McDongFlasher turns out to be a crude dumbass, so she talks him out of his gear, seductively ties him up, and leaves him to flap in the wind. It's totally unnecessary to the story beyond establishing a distraction, but it's amusing. Between Toothy and Max, who shows up to remind us Lily fell down an airshaft and out of the story (Because, yes, you HAD forgotten all about her), most of our red herrings are collecting at Casa del Dorothy. (They never do find her body, do they?) Ruthie shows up to be a bitch and steal Campbell's watch, but winds up joining the body count for her troubles when she walks in on Valentine disposing of the maid.

Along with some general get-to-the-end already busy-ness, Paige goes for a solitary hot tub and becomes Valentine's next victim. It's a sadistic scene, locked under the tub's cover, terrified with a power drill, and then finally electrocuted. Her killing caused a power outage so the party winds down. At this point, Dorothy sensibly-yet-nastily points out that Adam could easily be Jeremy after having a little work done. Dotty is bitter, bitter, bitter from being the fat girl in her little circle of friends, the "Natalie," if you will. She storms off so we can sustain the illusion that the killer could potentially turn out to be her. Post Scream, everyone had to be a suspect.

Good girl Kate now starts fumbling through the horror finale, finding a note she'd given Adam... next to the detective's decapitated head. She bolts for Dorothy and finds Adam instead. He chooses now to act extra-creepy and ask her to dance. The scene plays so he can be scary Jeremy and/or just a drunk at the same time. It's played in an obvious manner, but works surprisingly well. Kate, thinking Adam could well be the killer, gives him a knee to the nuts and runs off for Dorothy. She doesn't find her, but Adam shows up to act extra-ominous. You don't want to be a controlling boyfriend when there's a killer on the loose. Kate stumbles upon Paige soup and cracks a bottle over Adam's head. By now he should really be getting the hint if he isn't the killer to knock it off. She finds a bled-out Ruthie and goes for a gun. In real life, a terrified person who's upset and handling a gun would probably shoot the wall-paper along with anyone they came across. Valentine, however, surprises her into dropping the gun and they both go down the stairs together. Kate is scared, recognizing the mask from earlier. When Valentine sits up, Adam puts several bullets into... Dorothy. It's Dorothy behind the mask!

Was she the killer, or just the alibi he dressed up to pin it on and get back into Kate's good graces Adam consoles Kate while they wait for the police, telling her he's always loved her. As his nose starts to bleed on her, we fade to black.
This howler of boredom was, rather surprisingly, based on a novel. It also suffered from being edited down to inoffensiveness when released shortly after 9/11. Things are competently shot and directed here, preserving in amber what was "sleek" in 2001. The look has aged well, even if the music hasn't. For the performers, Shelton and Boreanaz are, well, pretty. Denise Richards was just heart-stopping to look at - still is. Her character isn't quite the vapid bitch you might think on first pass, and her natural. dizzy humor shows through. Capshaw, unfortunately, is saddled with a character written as an insecure , two-dimensional "former fatty." Dorothy probably should've turned out to have been the heroine, as she was the only one who showed sensitivity at age 12. All in all, it's an awkward fit for a charming actress still getting her footing at this point in her career.

The Valentine mask, a china doll's face with bee-stung lips, porthole eyes, and sculpted hair is a little threatening for being so inexpressive, but sadly isn't the iconic killer's face they were hoping for. I recommend Valentine for Scream fans and kids of the Ninties. It's thrills have aged to TV-movie caliber, and it's light on the gore, but the mystery and acting do hold up.

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