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‘Valentine's Day’ Serves Up Sugary Holiday Cheer

Valentine’s Day is as much about director Garry Marshall’s love of Los Angeles as it is about the popular pagan-inspired holiday. And give the man credit — he’s nothing if not thorough in showing it. Here, he has gone out of his way to make room for a cattle call of Hollywood stars in a fairy tale that makes a passing pretense of cynicism before giving most of its luminous cast their happily-ever-afters.

Attempting to follow the plot trail in this dizzyingly labyrinthine production isn’t easy. Characters, some of whom seem to exist solely to justify tossing more stars in the mix — none more so than a perky pair of love-struck teens played by Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift — drift in and out of the story with such frequency it’s hard to keep up.

Those inclined to try will find their efforts best rewarded by Hector Elizondo as a natural romantic who discovers his longtime wife’s infidelity on the big day, and George Lopez as a florist’s assistant and best buddy to Ashton Kutcher. Also noteworthy: Eric Dane – a.k.a. “McSteamy” of Grey’s Anatomy fame – as a Brett Favresque quarterback contemplating both retirement and the boldest announcement of his storied career.

The movie is commendable for its ambition. It has been popularly branded the American Love, Actually, and the similarities are obvious. Both feature all-star casts fleshing out indulgently paced, saccharine love stories. Yet Valentine’s Day is the less cloying of the two, and the less predictable. It also boasts some of the oddest cameos you’re likely to find, including a truly head-scratching turn by an uncredited Joe Mantegna.

Two things it doesn’t have are the talents of Love co-stars Colin Firth and Bill Nighy to round out a cast including Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Garner. But the last thing Marshall needs is more stars. In this case, a little less wattage might have made Valentine’s Day a bit easier on the brain if not on the eyes.