It was a holiday weekend so I did what all good Americans do on a holiday weekend. I went to the movies. Specifically, I went to see Valentine’s Day. (I also saw Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, but more on that later.) I knew going in that Valentine’s Day was not going to be great. It was too clearly a Love Actually knockoff, and knockoffs are by their very definition never as good as the original. So already Valentine’s Day was looking at being second-best.
Saying that Valentine’s Day is second-best to Love Actually is…generous. Very, very generous. Like Love Actually, Valentine’s Day revolves around multiple, intertwining storylines of a romantic nature during a holiday. Unlike Love Actually, Valentine’s Day kind of sucks. There’s just too much going on, too many characters. For instance, there are two high school-aged couples: Grace and Alex (Nancy Drew’s Emma Roberts and Aliens in the Attic’s Carter Jenkins), and Willy and Felicia (Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame and country singer Taylor Swift). The movie did not need both plot lines. Grace and Alex were the more compelling story—the high school sweethearts trying to mutually lose their virginity. It lead to one of the only genuinely funny moments in the movie, and Roberts, like her famous aunt Julia, is a simple joy to watch on screen. The Taylors were pointless. They were the bubbly popular couple whose entire point in the movie leads to one joke. Honestly, I think that joke could have been preserved and applied to the Grace/Alex story. This was the problem throughout Valentine’s Day—too much happening, too much redundancy. Some of the couplings were amusing and pleasant. Anne Hathaway and Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) were endearing and had surprising chemistry—they should probably work together again, in something more suited to their talents. (Also, hellooooo Topher Grace, you have been working out.) Hector Elizondo (every film by Garry Marshall ever), Julia Roberts, and George Lopez (Lopez Tonight) are always fun. Ashton Kutcher is not the best actor, but he was game and suited for his role. And Jennifer Garner, whom I don’t usually like, managed not to annoy me.
Depsite those few enjoyable performances and a couple truly funny moments, Valentine’s Day is more bad than good. The little boy (Bryce Robinson, Marley & Me) who was clearly a knockoff on the “Sam” character in Love Actually was painful to watch. I felt bad for the poor kid. I have a feeling it’s not so much that he is a bad child actor, but that he’s smart enough to realize his material blew and he checked out on it. Neither of the Taylors showed to particular advantage. Swift’s character was too stupid to register and Lautner barely even had lines. (My mother on Taylor Lautner: “He’s so manufactured!”) But the main problem was one of redundancy. There were just too many characters that echoed one another. For instance, Jessica Alba’s “too busy with work to commit” Morley could have been combined with Queen Latifah’s ace sports agent. This would eliminate Latifah from the movie, but it solves the problem of the audience never knowing what job Morley chooses over a fiancé, and would have tied a couple story lines together in a rather neater fashion. I can’t say I was disappointed in Valentine’s Day—it was pretty much what I expected. Which was not very good.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, however, is another matter. First, I have not read the novels by Rick Riordan, and second, that title sucks. I hate titles with ellipses. Just go the Harry Potter route and call your movie Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief. Doesn’t that already sound so much better? This movie should just be honest about what it is—Harry Potter for Americans. That’s a stupid idea, as Harry Potter is incredibly popular here in the US, and we don’t particularly need our own version of it. However, the books were pretty successful, so of course someone made a movie. And of course that someone was Chris Columbus, who kicked off the Harry Potter movie franchise. While his HP movies were not the best in the series, Columbus ably established the world of Hogwarts and Privet Drive. He seemed a bit lost with Percy Jackson’s alternate universe, though. His direction was joyless and his production oddly cheap looking for a $95 million film.
The basic story behind Percy Jackson is that the titular Percy (aged from 12 to 17 for the movie) is the half-mortal son of the ancient Greek god of the seas, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd, TV’s Journeyman), and normal lady Sally Jackson (Catherine Keener, The 40 Year Old Virgin). Percy, who has dyslexia and ADD, has been raised by his frazzled mother and smelly stepfather, Gabe (Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix). Other adults involved include Pierce Brosnan (formerly James Bond), Sean Bean (formerly a Bond villain), Rosario Dawson (Death Proof), Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder), and Uma Thurman. How they got all these good actors to be in this terrible movie I will never understand. I suspect blackmail. Percy discovers his true identity while on a school fieldtrip to the museum when a Fury attacks him (mythology is quite clear what a Fury looks like—that wasn’t it) and demands Zeus’s lightning bolt, which Percy, rumor has it, has stolen. Except Percy hasn’t stolen it, as he will tell you approximately one thousand times for the rest of the movie. (Who did steal it is painfully obvious from the moment he enters the movie.) Percy sets out with his best friend Grover, who turns out to be a satyr, and his half-assed love interest Annabeth, who is a daughter of Athena, to find the stolen Lightning Bolt and return it to Zeus. Except his quest changes halfway through and he is now trying to save his mother from Hades. *facepalm*
The central trio tries; I give them credit for that. Logan Lerman (Gamer and the rumored Peter Parker for the upcoming Spider-Man reboot) is game as Percy—and he is certainly a pretty elf young man. Alexandra Daddario (TV’s White Collar) is ludicrously well-lit as Annabeth, and she does manage to inject a modicum of Girl Power! into the role (still the poor man’s Hermione, though). And Brandon Jackson (Fast & Furious) gives 110% to Grover, who is the most insulting, stereotypical character ever—Grover was so annoying. This movie was a big fat FAIL on several fronts. Dialogue wasn’t great which leads to poor-ish acting, and the exposition was thin. The villain’s reason for stealing the Lightning Bolt was made plain—painfully plain—but how he stole it and why he chose to blame Percy (how he even knew who Percy was when Percy’s identity was such a secret) is never explained. Like, they don’t even take a half-hearted stab at explaining all that. And I am still baffled how, with $95 million, the “Camp Half Blood” where Percy goes to learn about his roots managed to look like a wilderness fort built by someone’s dad. Except for Percy’s personal pavilion/cabin/home thing at Camp Half Blood—that set piece was awesome, by far the best in the whole movie. I wanted to live there, which is the same feeling Columbus so ably provoked with Hogwarts in the first two HP movies. Another stand-out set design was The Land of the Lotus Eaters, here represented by a glitzy Vegas casino. Overall, though, Percy Jackson & The Terrible Title was a mish-mash of crap dialogue, crappier acting, flat action sequences, hackneyed storytelling, and close-ups of Lerman’s elf ears pretty blue eyes.