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by: James Berardinelli

Valentine is an extremely strange slasher movie. Not only is it deadly dull, but the killer actually courts the audience's sympathy. This is largely accomplished through a prologue that takes place at a sixth grade Valentine's Day dance. There, a young nerd is subjected to ridicule by the girls he asks to dance (yeah, kids can be cruel). Thirteen years later, he has graduated from the school of hard knocks and gone into the serial killer profession. Now, he wanders around imitating Michael Myers by wearing a Cupid mask (apparently, no white-painted Captain Kirk masks are available) and brandishing a nasty looking knife. (I guess the guidance counselors at his old school won't invite him back to give a talk on career day.)

Would that director Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend) had lifted more than the Myers look and gait from Halloween. Valentine, the first Valentine's Day mass-murder movie since the immortal My Bloody Valentine, makes one wonder if a holiday exists that hasn't been exploited by one slasher movie or another. Maybe Arbor Day... Once the movie gets past the twin conceits of having death threats written on heart-shaped cards and giving the killer the Cupid mask, these events could have transpired at any place in any time.

More than two decades ago, when Halloween was released, the primary focus of a horror movie was on suspense. Keep the audience gasping. Over the years, that has changed. Now, it's the body count. The more corpses, the better. Prolonged tension has been replace by the quick payoff of the "boo" moment (there are three or four of these in Valentine, only one of which is really effective). In a way, slasher films are like porn films - both have "money shots." In the slasher genre, it's the murder, and the foreplay leading up to it is the inane running through darkened hallways and empty parking lots. Movie-goers attend slasher films to see people get butchered (frequently in creative ways). The problem is, just as a porn film can't feature a constant stream of orgasms, the slasher movie can't offer an endless orgy of carnage. So, these days, what distinguishes a good slasher film from a bad one is the material that fills up the other 70 minutes of screen time. And, at least in the case of Valentine, it's pretty disappointing stuff - lots of insipid dialogue, bad acting, and pointless angst. Why bother with character development?

The premise is that the once publicly humiliated guy has decided to unleash 13 years of pent-up rage against those who offended him the most grievously. (Imagine having a school dance be the defining moment in your life...) So he sends them creepy valentines, then stalks and kills them one-by-one. With a lone exception, they're all bitches, so we don't feel much sympathy for them as they are systematically dispatched. The aforementioned exception is Kate, played by Marley Shelton (currently doing double-duty as the ditzy blonde in Sugar & Spice), who could easily be described as the "warm and caring one". In fact, her turn-down when asked to dance was easily the nicest: "Sorry, Jeremy, not right now. Maybe later."

Then there's the film's lame whodunnit? aspect, which reminds us why it's better for slasher movies to stick to the gore and not try to keep the killer's identity a secret. No one ever wondered who Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy were, did they? Leave the mysteries to Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. At any rate, because Valentine is trying to stump us, it throws in numerous red herrings, and, when all is finally unraveled at the end, things don't make any sense. This is just plain dumb plotting.

First billing goes to David Boreanaz, who hardly has any significant screen time. His character, Adam, is Kate's boyfriend, and only appears during those scenes when the filmmakers decide that her personality needs a little beefing-up. Boreanaz, the

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