Go ahead. Point at me and snicker. Yes, I'm that lone critic who didn't loathe Valentine. Despite having read far too many intensely negative reviews (the film scored in the single digits in Rotten Tomatoes' "Cream of the Crop" composite percentage), the controversial cuts made by Warner to bow to the whims of the soccer moms and religious right of America, and the far-too-obvious identity of the masked killer, I found Valentine to be perfectly okay. Sure, "okay" isn't the most glowing praise I could bestow upon a movie, but I could've done a lot worse. Countless other reviewers certainly did with this film, the sophomore effort from "Urban Legend" director Jamie Blanks.
A geeky sixth grader at his first dance has some difficulty finding a partner. After suffering rejection after rejection, a chubby, lonely girl takes pity on him, and immediately after a quick cut, the pair of outcasts are swapping spit under the bleachers. The two are caught, and a group of rowdy boys torment him and pull a "Carrie" homage with a bowl of fruit punch. His chunky cold medina cries foul, he gets the boot from school, and...thirteen years ominously pass. The gals from that fateful night -- played by Marley Shelton, Katherine Heigl, Jessica Cauffiel (who coincidentally had a prominent role in the sequel to Blanks' "Urban Legend"), Denise Richards, and Stevie Spielberg's stepdaughter Jessica Capshaw -- each receive disturbing valentine cards and gifts, and before you know it, a Cupid-masked murderer is offing them off one by one. It's admittedly not the most original plot, but slashers aren't about originality -- they're about execution. This movie isn't as entertaining as Urban Legend by a longshot, but Valentine has enough decent moments to keep it from being a total waste.
Despite what you may have heard, Valentine really isn't that bad. The kill scenes are reasonably tense, and it's free of the pacing problems that made similar efforts like I Know What You Did Last Summer such a chore to sit through. The acting is a bit of a mess; top-billed David Boreanaz feels grossly out of place, and the always-abysmal Denise Richards is a talent black hole, sucking the life out of the many scenes in which she appears. On the more gifted side of things, the genuinely talented Marley Shelton shines in her lead role as Kate Davies. Shelton is by far the strongest actor of the main cast, and she appears far more beautiful and grown-up looking than she did in the recently released Sugar and Spice. The plot is kind of a hodge-podge of horror/slasher films from over the years, ranging from Carrie to My Bloody Valentine to Halloween to...you name it. The lengthy and suspenseful kill scenes are sandwiched between sequences with extensive amounts of ineptly-written dialogue, and strangely, it took four writers to come up with this tripe.
Quite a bit of fuss was made in the slasher community when word leaked out that Warner cut a considerable amount of the more visceral shots from Valentine, despite the film making it through the MPAA fully intact. No, Warner wasn't trying to hop from an R to a more teen-friendly PG-13 -- they decided to bow to the hyper-conservative political climate and disappoint its intended audience. Hypocritically, the almost indescribably violent "3,000 Miles To Graceland" didn't receive the same treatment. I don't think the inclusion of gore would've made Valentine a better movie, but quite a few of the kills feel stilted and awkward as a result. Disappointingly, this DVD release doesn't have a frame of that footage reinstated, nor is it available separately in the supplements. I would prefer that Warner stop making slasher movies entirely rather than continue giving them such shoddy treatment.
Video: The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer for this DVD release of Valentine is every bit as gorgeous as stars Marley Shelton or Katie Heigl. The amount of detail in the image is particularly striking. Just as there is no bleeding in the movie, there's no bleeding in the vibrant colors either. Black levels are rock-solid, even in the many dimly-lit portions of the film, and if there's any grain present, I couldn't spot it on my set. This is one of Warner's finest transfers to date, and I've made a mental note to use the early blind date scene with Jason as reference material. A 'standard' 4x3 version is available for those curmudgeons who 'just can't stand them black bars'.
Audio: Jamie Blanks mentions in the commentary that sound design was important to the film, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on this disc reflects that. Surrounds are used frequently and effectively, giving the film an expansive quality and heightening the tension considerably. The score by Don Davis (The Matrix, House on Haunted Hill) is among the best of any slasher flick of recent memory, and if not for the commentary, I never would've known that a real orchestra wasn't behind the music. An exceptional effort all around.
Supplements: Director Jamie Blanks provides an excellent commentary. He remains talkative throughout, with few pauses and gaps worth mentioning. Unlike self-love-fests like Henry Salick's commentary on Monkeybone, Blanks is as candid about the film's flaws as he is with comments about what he thinks works. He offers an extraordinary amount of technical information, interspersed with such peculiar production notes as the film's aborted start at Artisan with Tara Reid, how his DP reused a Valentine police station set in his directorial debut, and the quirks David Boreanaz added to his character, such as wearing a watch damaged in the never-mentioned murder of his character Adam's father. I really enjoyed Blanks' contributions to the commentary on Urban Legend, and his first solo commentary is just as strong. I'm tempted to say I enjoyed watching the film more with the commentary than without.
Blanks' commentary makes numerous mentions of extended scenes, deleted footage, and excised subplots. None of these are really included on the disc, but a brief peek at a single deleted scene can be viewed in the featurette, strangely titled 'Studio Extras'. "Brief" is the operative word there, as all of 10 seconds of a dialogue-driven scene are presented, with Deleted Scene presented in big, bold letters on the screen. This exclusive featurette isn't as vapid as the HBO: First Look drivel that turns up on far too many DVDs, but the tiny amount of on-set footage doesn't quite compensate for the numerous clips from the film and the useless interviews with the cast and crew.
I'm not entirely sure what a 'club reel' is. I assumed it was something like the excruciatingly goofy Raveworld footage from the Pitch Black DVD. This supplement, comprised of random clips from the movie, has absolutely nothing to do with clubs in any way as far as I can tell, but it does have "Opticon" by Orgy blaring in the background. Whether or not that's a good thing is entirely up to you.
Also included are those Warner mainstays, cast/crew filmographies and an anamorphic trailer.
Conclusion: Valentine is uninspired, but it's hardly the unbearably terrible film so many others have made it out to be. Its under-$20 list price is easy to swallow, but I don't really foresee this disc spending enough time in my player to warrant a purchase. Rent it.
Useless Trivia: David Boreanaz isn't the only Buffy link in the film -- star Marley Shelton went to her high school prom with Nicholas "Xander Harris" Brendon, and she went on to be voted prom queen.