Can a film being released in 2001 really expect to be taken seriously when its killer wears a mask? After the “Friday the 13th” movies overdid them and the “Scream” movies mocked them, you’d think a filmmaker with any kind of savvy would know better.
But the killer in “Valentine,” whom we are led to understand is a former grade-school nerd seeking revenge on the girls who were once cruel to him, wears a mask. It’s a cherubic Cupid mask — creepy, sure, and he even uses a bow and arrow once — but no self-respecting psycho would wear a mask nowadays.
Speaking of psycho, a shower scene — that other slasher-movie clichÃ© — is here, too, also without irony. In this day and age, it would be hard to come up with any new ideas for teen horror flicks, and director Jamie Blanks (“Urban Legend”), working from a script that took four people to write, only occasionally even tries.
A potential victim hides in a morgue full of body bags, leaving the killer no choice but to slash each one until he hits the jackpot; I admit to finding that idea fairly original, even if the result is the same. But after that, it’s a lot of pointless romances — justified because of the film’s Valentine’s Day theme — and standard don’t-go-in-the-basement scenarios.
Set in San Francisco, the film follows four 20-ish women who are allegedly friends but who go for long periods of time without seeing each other and who don’t notice when one of their fellows disappears for several days. (This is not a dynamic of their friendship; it’s a series of plot conveniences.) We meet them first at the funeral of the aforementioned morgue worker, who was also a friend of theirs. Before she was pre-posthumously autopsied, she received a weird valentine, and soon the survivors are getting them, too.
The valentines say morbidly funny things like, “Roses are red, violets are blue/They’ll need dental records to identify you,” and the girls are freaked out but not, as yet, murdered.
The valentines are signed “JM,” and the girls figure it might be Jeremy Melton, the skinny kid they all spurned in junior high. Jeremy has disappeared, with no recent photographs, so no one knows what he looks like now. (His parents died “in a fire,” which is how most movie orphans’ parents died.) With the help of a lecherous detective (Fulvio Cecere), they realize that any of their current boyfriends or acquaintances could actually be Jeremy, cleaned up and bulked out.
From there it’s rote, with nary a twist, though the apparently arbitrary revelation of the killer’s identity does make some good sense if you think about it. The characters range from Denise Richards’s saucy whore to Jessica Capshaw’s plump nice girl. Richards is leering and awful; Capshaw is actually pretty good; Jessica Cauffiel and Katherine Heigl as the other two women are somewhere in between. David Boreanaz (from TV’s “Angel”) is serviceable as the boyfriend of one of the girls.
Very little of what anyone does or says rings true to life (one woman takes her recovering-alcoholic boyfriend to a bar, and the detective shows not a hint of sympathy while questioning the friends at the funeral), but some of it is entertaining. The film occasionally manages to be clever and suspenseful. We’ve been needing a good Valentine’s Day horror movie. This isn’t it, but it’s a start.
C- (; )