**/**** Image A Sound B Extras C+
starring David Boreanaz, Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Katherine Heigl
screenplay by Donna Powers & Wayne Powers and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts, based on the novel by Tom Savage
directed by Jamie Blanks
by Bill Chambers There was a time in my life, not necessarily a proud one, when I based my video-rental selections on whether the box pictured some configuration of pointy knife, mask, and bug-eyed victim. Call it my 'boo' period; without it, I may never have seen Prom Night, and therefore not understood just how banal Valentine, its unofficial remake, really is. Prom Night is brain food by comparison, and it stars Leslie Nielsen! Still, I'd sooner watch Valentine again before much of today's quickie horror, if only to re-experience Denise Richards's eyebrow-raising performance. She suggests here an understudy for the understudy--the custodian who's been around long enough to pick up the lines but not necessarily the context in which they belong. In the words of Radiohead, she's like a detuned radio, but she's easily the most compelling thing in the film.
Like Prom Night, Valentine opens on a flashback in which a middle-school dweeb is teased well past the point of reason. This time, it's because he keeps asking, to scores of rejection, his cutest classmates to dance. (Flashback, indeed!) Unfortunately, the scene builds to a Carrie homage that veers into plagiarism. Cut to: several years later. Katherine Heigl, as one of the girls who said "no," opens an elaborate--and threatening--valentine. Minutes later, she meets a horrible end in a convenient place: a cold-storage facility. Her snobby childhood friends show up at the funeral (punctuating their arrested development, they've not stopped hanging out with one another since sixth grade, though I did wonder if the filmmakers realized how unusual this is) and are greeted by the investigating officer (Fulvio Cecere). He warns them to steer clear of guys with the initials "J.M.," and begins a flirtation with Richards's Paige Prescott that all but guarantees a romantic subplot. When Valentine can't decide on the parameters of their attraction, it offs both characters. And the wheel keeps turning.
I thought Richards was fairly insufferable if not miscast in Starship Troopers, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and The World is Not Enough, but she's on Valentine's wavelength playing a peculiar Hollywood convention--the jezebel who doesn't have any sex--and her tongue seems firmly planted in cheek. If it weren't for her, the movie would be a total bore with a cast of indistinguishably attractive women (another satirical point made so drily you wonder if director Jamie Blanks even caught it). Richards is one of the few non-blondes here and, belying that old adage, we have more fun with her. One of Valentine's major weaknesses is that it doesn't decide on a lead. Richards would have done the trick, ditto the crushingly beautiful Heigl, who's squandered in the Drew Barrymore-in-Scream role. While most slashers are ensemble pieces, it's convention and tradition for a so-called "final girl" to emerge as the late-blooming heroine, giving the audience its surrogate.
It's perhaps not unrelated that Valentine feels overproduced--slick to a fault. In dispensing with modesty it does away with classicism and a lot of the simple pleasures of the genre. It's Homer Simpson's overdesigned car, complete with a byzantine plot that's almost impossible to piece together afterwards. Although Blanks might not take the observation that this follow-up to his slightly inferior Urban Legend looks too polished as a criticism, I can't suppress these pangs of nostalgia for crap with a wig hat and shades to match, to paraphrase Mitch Ryder this time. Valentine feigns being a return of sorts to mostly irony-free teen schlock, but its pretensions overwhelm its ambitions, and the whole thing finally washes out as another cynical teen-and-Scream-boom cash-grab by a major studio, complete with major-studio violence. (Which is to say, the kills are pretty timid.) Richards is her own private marvel, though; could any other actress so elevate the line, "You brought me up here to show me your penis?"?
Warner's DVD release is up to their usual high standards. Valentine is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of superb clarity and saturation. (Reds are suitably vibrant.) There is a dark cast throughout that suggests Macrovision murk in the most underlit sequences, yet it's hardly inorganic to the movie's tone or the nature of its cinematography. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix leaves a little to be desired, as it reserves surround usage for abstract party noise and the like and doesn't defer enough jolt to the subwoofer. Left-right separation is expert, if infrequent.
The Australian Blanks's commentary track is full of minor revelations, such as where the concept of "Turbo Dating" came from and the pitfalls of cutting a shadowy-looking film on a computer. Additionally, Blanks discusses with some frankness just what was imposed on Valentine by the powers that be. Besides sparse cast/crew bios and the theatrical trailer (a somewhat misleading label, since it's only the teaser), the remaining menu selections are assigned cryptic values: "Club Reel" is a music video for Orgy's "Opticon" consisting entirely of Valentine footage, while "Studio Extras" is actually the 7-minute "Valentine: Behind the Scenes", featuring superficial interviews with principals plus a negligible deleted scene.
96 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; CC; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Warner