[Screen It]

(2001) (Marley Shelton, Denise Richards) (R)

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Horror: Some longtime friends begin receiving threatening Valentine messages and then start falling prey one by one to a masked figure that could be anyone they know, including a former junior high classmate they once mocked.
Kate (MARLEY SHELTON), Paige (DENISE RICHARDS), Dorothy (JESSICA CAPSHAW) and Lily (JESSICA CAUFFIEL) are a group of single women in their twenties who've been friends since at least junior high school. All are looking for or trying to sort out love in their lives, which is appropriate since Valentine's Day is nearing.

When another friend of theirs, Shelly (KATHERINE HEIGL), is murdered and they begin receiving bizarre and threatening valentine cards and gifts, the focus of the women's attention shifts into trying to figure out who might be responsible. While an innocent boy they mocked and accused of attacking Dorothy in the sixth grade is mentioned, the cop investigating the case, Detective Vaughn (FULVIO CECERE), thinks the culprit might be someone else, including someone they might be seeing.

As such, the women try to figure out whether it might be Adam (DAVID BOREANAZ), Kate's recovering alcoholic boyfriend; Campbell (DANIEL COSGROVE), an Internet entrepreneur who's moved into Dorothy's place; or maybe Max Ives (JOHNNY WHITWORTH), an avant-garde audiovisual artist who's interested in Lily, all while the masked killer continues killing various members of their group and others.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
As is the case with most any product that's manufactured for purchase or consumption by consumers, the great Hollywood moviemaking machine consists of those who make the films - the cast and crew - and those who market and distribute the finished product. While both are stressful and complicated endeavors in their own right, the latter may be more prone to producing ulcers.

After all, not only must those who are responsible spend millions of dollars convincing people to see their film that has already cost millions upon millions more, but they must also figure out when best to release the given product. In doing so, they must take into account how films have historically played throughout the calendar year, as well as what the competition might be releasing and what might be debuting on TV, etc.

Of course, when films have a particular seasonal theme or predominant setting, the task is a bit easier since it's usually best to release the Christmas, summer vacation and Halloween films in their corresponding seasons. Speaking of the latter, the weekend closest to that last day in October is usually a good time to release a horror film since that's the genre most closely associated with that "holiday."

The filmmakers behind this week's horror release, however, decided to buck that tradition by releasing their film, "Valentine," in the understandable horror slot near Valentines Day. Of course, "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs" is opening one weekend even closer to V-Day, and this film's producer stated in the press kit that since "sex and love go hand in hand with horror films" (something I'm sure everyone believes), that this is obviously a perfect fit.

Maybe so - after all, there's nothing like telling your valentine you love them by taking them to a horror flick where people are sliced and diced. Of course, such films often have the tendency to make some women sit closer to their men, so perhaps there's something to all of this after all.

Nevertheless and notwithstanding the seasonal plotting and scheduling, one should judge a film not by when it's released, but instead by whether it's any good and delivers what's expected from its genre. As such, the big question is whether "Valentine" succeeds at being a scary film.

The answer depends on who you are and what you've seen and been subjected to. If you're under ten years old, have a low tolerance level for horror mayhem and/or have recently been stalked by a mute, masked and knife-wielding psychopath, then perhaps you'll find it somewhat scary. On the other hand, if you can drive, have seen one or more slasher films anytime in the past and/or have seen what they charge nowadays for popcorn and a soda at the movies, what's offered in this film won't remotely be scary or shocking.

That's because it's yet another unimaginative retreading of any standard slasher film. You know the type, there's a killer who wears a mask featuring a frozen expression - this time in the form of an older cherub ("Oh, how scary!") - while killing various attractive and nubile young people (who are occasionally scantily clad, natch) who did him wrong sometime in the past, remind him of his mother and/or overcharged him recently at the concession stand.

What's perhaps the scariest thing about the film is that it actually took four credited screenwriters - Donna Powers & Wayne Powers ("Deep Blue Sea") and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts (the TV series "Roswell") - to adapt the story from author Tom Savage's original novel. Was that so that they could make sure they had lifted every cliché and other element from as many slasher films they could collectively think of?

I've never been a huge fan of the slasher genre - except for the original "Halloween" that unfortunately spawned a gazillion lame sequels and copycat films - and this release only reinforces my negative view of them. After all, a filmmaker can only do so much with the basic plot of a masked killer hunting down and killing his human prey, and director Jamie Blanks ("Urban Legend") doesn't even offer up any imaginative ways for the killer to off his victims (save for a slightly effective drill bit meets hot tub scene).

Had the previously tormented soul killed himself and then sent his ghost to dispatch the responsible parties, that would have been one thing as it would have added a much needed supernatural aura to the proceedings. Even if the remaining survivors at least proactively set out to stop the killer, that would have made for a better film than what's offered here.

This is about as exciting as watching a Discovery Channel documentary where a hidden crocodile suddenly lunges out of the stagnant water and grabs his previously unsuspecting prey. Of course, the crocs are far scarier than any cherub-masked bogeyman and the unlucky antelope or water buffalo are far more sympathetic than the characters here.

In fact, while I'm not one prone to favoring people being killed in the movies, I found myself somewhat wishing that the killer here would have hurried up and taken care of the rest of the cast so that the film would be over sooner and I could leave. That's not only because the film is bad, but also because no one will care about any of the characters except perhaps the performers' parents or loved ones.

The likes of Marley Shelton ("Sugar & Spice," "Pleasantville"), Denise Richards ("The World is Not Enough," "Wild Things"), Jessica Capshaw ("The Locusts," "Denial") and/or Jessica Cauffiel ("Road Trip," "Urban Legend II") simply can't do anything with their sketchily drawn characters to make us worry about them, although some will probably be concerned that Richards might disappear too soon and thus not have the full chance to reinforce her stereotype of playing the sultry vixen.

Instead, the only intrigue the film has to offer is in figuring out the killer's identity, who the next victim might be (antelope #1 or water buffalo #2) and what twisted, "only from the mind of a writer" way that the killer will use in dispatching them.

Among the suspects, only David Boreanaz (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Daniel Cosgrove ("The Object of My Affection") get the meaty parts, but even then, they're as boring and poorly developed as the prey. To top if off, most everyone knows that a film like this will add some sort of twist at the end, so following the "clues" turns out to be a pointless endeavor, just like guessing who and how the next victim will meet their demise.

Overall, this is a case study of redundancy where old slasher film clichés are endlessly recycled without giving them anything resembling a fresh veneer or the ability to have the desired effect on the viewer. One can only hope that one day all masks and other head coverings will be banned from Hollywood so that we may be able to bury the slasher genre once and for all.

Don't hold your breath, however, as some aspiring filmmaker would then release, "Pilgrim," the horror story of a psychopath who took to killing people after being laughed at in his elementary school Thanksgiving Day production. After all, there's nothing that says horror like stuffing and giblets - and maybe some leftover Valentines Day candy. But don't worry, as a film like that is bound to be as much of a turkey as this one. "Valentine" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 1, 2001 / Posted February 2, 2001

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