Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Valentine (2001)

Hmm, what's playing at the movies that I haven't seen... The Expendables 3, didn't like the second one, and the PG-13 rating removes the one thing that had going for it... The Giver, the book is damn near untouchable, but the trailers for this make it look like they turned it into a fifth-rate Hunger Games ripoff... Let's Be Cops, Damon Wayans' last few movies have all been garbage... goddamn has this been a lousy summer at the movies? And now we're in the damn dump months. I could go see Guardians of the Galaxy again, but I think I'll dig into the DVD collection and grab something that I haven't watched yet.

Valentine (2001)

Oh well, so much for that decision. Valentine is easily among the worst of the slick teen horror movies to come out in the time between Scream and The Ring. Toothless, poorly written and acted, and worst of all, boring, it is one of the movies that fans of old-school '80s slashers like to point to when talking about Scream's supposedly detrimental influence on the horror genre, and the slasher genre especially. (To be honest, I'd say that the Columbine massacre was more responsible than Scream ever was for the de-clawing of horror movies at the turn of the millennium, but that's a discussion for when I review Scream.) It's a steaming pile of teenybopper excrement that barely deserves its R rating, whose own director has apologized for it, and which fails at almost every task that a slasher film is supposed to satisfy. It's not scary, its plot makes little sense and comes off as uncomfortable nowadays, and it's not entertaining.

The film starts in 1988, where, at a middle school dance, a scrawny nerd named Jeremy Melton looks for a girl willing to dance with him, only to be humiliated, stripped to his skivvies, and beaten mercilessly in front of the whole school. The experience sent him on a downward spiral that led to reform school and eventually the psych ward; his current whereabouts are unknown... until now! Fast-forward to the present day of 2001, where the girls who spurned Jeremy's affection when he was little have grown into young women, and they, their boyfriends, and any poor schmucks near them are being offed one by one by a killer wearing a frankly ridiculous Cupid mask who may or may not be little Jeremy all grown up. If that sounds awfully like the Isla Vista massacre in the form of a teen slasher flick, only thirteen years early (thirteen years... 1988 to 2001... holy shit, maybe Elliot Rodger was the real-life Jeremy Melton!), I don't blame you. I'll be honest, I can't begrudge a film that was shot during the Clinton administration for not exploring the ramifications of its story, instead using it as the bare framework for a hack-n-slash romp. However, the fact that the film seems to take Jeremy's side in the opening, portraying him as purely a victim of a cruel humiliation by the mean jocks that scarred him for life, does come off as pretty messed-up, all things considered. You see, all this would never have happened if the girls gave that nice beta male some affection instead of exclusively dating alpha male jocks! It felt like a stereotypical "nice guy" view of romance, where asking nicely for a girl to dance with you is all it will take for her to do so -- and having been a nerd myself when I was that age, I know that the sort of responses Jeremy received from those girls typically don't come unwarranted.

Ahem. That digression out of the way, even if those... problems weren't present, that doesn't excuse how poorly put-together the rest of the film is. To start with, the kills are hit-or-miss. A great slasher flick needs to have great death scenes, with both suspense and payoff, to succeed. Halloween, for instance, had nary a drop of blood but made up for it with creeping dread, while many of the '80s slashers that fall more into "cult classic" territory compensated for their shortcomings with creative kills brought to life with buckets of corn syrup and great special effects. I will grant this film two things: a fairly high body count, and some creative foreshadowing of each of the girls' deaths during their cruel put-downs of Jeremy in the opening scene. That's where my compliments end, though, as there were really only two memorable kills in this whole film, the art gallery scene and the hot tub death. Two other kills take place entirely off-screen, while many of the rest were heavily telegraphed to the point of sucking all suspense out of the room, and didn't even have any especially gory finishes to make up for it. The actors, for their part, couldn't be bothered to act scared, their dull surprise ruining a number of scenes that could have been suspenseful.

I don't blame them for not giving their all, though, as their characters were terrible. Their motivations frequently change over the course of the film, while subplots are introduced and then never given another glance. For instance, in one scene we see that David Boreanaz's character Adam is an alcoholic, which immediately leads to a fight with his girlfriend Kate (Marley Shelton) when she walks in on him drinking. This scene comes too late in the film to really have much of an impact. There had never been any indication beforehand that Adam was battling these sorts of demons, and it serves only to mark him as a suspect during the third act. (The fact that -- spoiler warning -- he turns out to be the killer is pretty much telegraphed from that point on.) Another subplot, involving the rich girl Dorothy's boyfriend Campbell dating her simply to gain access to her fortune, dies the second he gets the axe, the film taking no opportunity to develop that subplot in any manner. Ditto for the entire character of Dorothy's stepmother, an Asian trophy wife who's younger than her own stepdaughter. There were so many ways they could've given the characters a shred of development beyond their cardboard-cutout personalities, if only to create ambiguity and red herrings around who the killer is, and as it stands, the few scenes they do throw in here and there are merely padding. All of these characters were wafer-thin and quite annoying on top of it, and I was rooting for all of them to die, even with this film's weak kills offering little catharsis, just so I wouldn't have to put up with them any longer. The only one I was able to stand was Denise Richards as the hot chick Paige, mostly for one scene where she pours hot wax on some douchebag's balls that does nothing to move the story forward but was simply hilarious no matter how you look at it.

And not only does this film start relentlessly telegraphing the fact that Adam is the killer about thirty minutes before the reveal, but the manner in which it finally takes off his laughable Cupid mask and reveals his true nature to the audience is made of pure fail from top to bottom. Adam spends the climax acting like the killer and chasing Kate around the house, only to throw the mask and cloak onto Dorothy and disguise her as the killer before taking her out and "saving" Kate in a "big damn heroes" moment. Cut to Kate cuddling in Adam's arms... and Adam developing the trademark nosebleed that Jeremy gets whenever he kills somebody. Roll credits. That's it. The film manages to somehow both make it obvious that Adam is Jeremy and pull the reveal of such directly out of its ass, without even giving us a proper motive rant from the guy about how this was his elaborate scheme to get revenge on all the bitches from middle school who made his life a living hell. Like it does with everything else, the film treats the most important bit of character development, the reveal of the killer and his motive, like an afterthought, using it only for one last cheap twist. And I thought Shyamalan was bad.

Score: 1 out of 5

God, I hated this movie. It would be offensive if it wasn't so stupid, with despicable characters, no edge, and not even the sense of humor about itself that made many of the lesser Scream ripoffs bearable.

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