He's No Angel
Director Jamie Blanks’ Valentine’s Day slasher marks David Boreanaz’s first post-Buffy, mid-Angel big-screen crossover attempt. It’s not so surprising, considering the rate at which television superstars cross over into cinema superflops (think of the lamentable film careers of Friends’ Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry), that both the film and Boreanaz’s performance are as flat as the mildly threatening Valentine cards that are the killer’s lame signature. As Angel, Boreanaz continues to be impossibly sexy and always just out of reach, brooding and angry—you know, he’s the strong silent type. As Adam Carr in Valentine, he’s still impossibly sexy, but also a whiny boozehound trying to stay on the wagon for his girlfriend, Kate (Marley Shelton of the recent Sugar & Spice), and woo her back to his arms with agonizing endearments in time for the Hallmark holiday of love.
Sheesh, such a treacly affair. One of the things Angel does best is kick ass, and unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of ass for the kicking in Valentine, even if Adam were up for the job. There is one moment of relief, when the film recognizes Boreanaz’s hunky star status, which actually borders on the amusing. Kate dishes the dirt on her sex life to her friend Paige (Denise Richards), with the lamentable multiple entendre, “Okay, he’s no angel.” Of course we know he is one very specific Angel, but Kate’s comment is in the context of her bemoaning the lack of decent, eligible men out in the dating pool.
The lack of male mate material today is one of Valentine‘s preoccupations, as we watch a group of girlfriends-since-elementary school make their way in the adult world. Kate has her alcoholic boyfriend problems. Shelly (Roswell‘s Katherine Heigl), a brainy, pre-med student, is clearly above the level of the lame ducks who ask her out. Paige is the sexual predator who puts uppity men in their place (in one scene, after being told to “wax” one of her paramours’ assets, she pours hot candle wax on his crotch—take that!). Lily (Jessica Cauffiel) is the curly-headed blond attracted to all the wrong sorts of guys, and Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) is the formerly fat girl who still struggles with her body image and is desperate to attract even one man. In the end though, Valentine suggests that while the men out there are bad, these girls are even worse—they are all callow, bitchy, and superficial, as well as just plain mean.
Valentine begins with a flashback of the childhood cruelty that will produce our lovelorn murderer. During a series of jump-cut scenes, we witness nerdy preteen Jeremy Melton (Joel Palmer) ask the prettiest, most popular girls in 6th grade to dance (during the Valentine’s Day party), only to be humiliated and shot down repeatedly. Finally, he asks the Fat Girl, she takes his hand, and we quickly find them under the bleachers engaged in some awkward kissing. Inevitably, a group of schoolboy bullies finds the pair and exposes them to the rest of the school, screaming, “Pervert jumped Buffalo” and the like. The young Dorothy quickly rejects Jeremy and joins in the ridicule. Things escalate as the bullies kick and punch Jeremy, strip him naked, and send him running home. Kids can be terrible to one another, we all know that, but this is a pretty grim vision of childhood cruelty. I guess that’s the point—only something truly terrible creates a serial killer, which means the rest of us “normal” people are off the hook for all our possible childhood (and adult) cruelties. It is suddenly thirteen years later, and the girls are fresh out of college, when they start to drop dead one by one, after receiving spooky Valentine’s greetings. In one of the film’s inconsistencies, the now adult Dorothy is now part of the elite group that humiliated Jeremy Melton, even though we know such a social transformation would be nigh on impossible. And if these women are as malicious as adults as they were as children, why would they lower themselves to befriend a girl they all called “Buffalo”?
Anyway, what follows is pretty standard (substandard, actually) slasher flick stuff, as the girls, with the help of the intrepid yet bumbling Detective Vaughn (Fulvio Cecere), try to figure out not so much who the killer is but what he looks like now. You see, the killer has actually been signing his Valentine epistles, so we “know” it’s Jeremy Melton, but no one has seen or heard from him in years, since he was institutionalized shortly after his elementary school degradation. And that’s about it. Along the way, there are requisite scenes in the shower and a medical school cadaver laboratory, as well as scantily clad babes cavorting alone in the dark, and one final, bitchin’ house party. Normally I am a fan of horror films, but Valentine is just vapid. Valentine is content to reproduce to most banal generic conventions and hope for the best. It doesn’t work.
It is interesting though, that in screenwriter Donna Power’s story (adapted from a novel by Tom Savage), it is only the girls who bear the brunt of our Valentine killer’s wrath. The boys who stripped and beat the young Jeremy Melton are totally forgiven and forgotten, while the girls are methodically sliced and diced; like most slasher films, this one is at once intensely misogynistic. Valentine offers a rather awful vision of contemporary young womanhood, and takes real pleasure in the girls’ various downfalls. Paige’s death is particularly, inspired. She’s locked under the cover of a hot tub, which is made of plexiglas so we can see her struggle to get what little air is trapped in with her, while the killer drills through the cover at her with an amazing powertool—she is, how shall I say it, fucked through the glass.
I still wonder why the boys are let off. Granted, young maleness isn’t necessarily given a better shake by Valentine than young womanhood. In addition to the desperate Adam, are the gold-digging pretty boy Campbell (Daniel Cosgrove) and Jason (Adam Harrington), who always speaks of himself—and only speaks of himself—in the third person. But the killer’s (and the film’s) vision is focused on the women who so wronged Jeremy Melton. If one of the standard ropes of slasher flicks is that the women are both victims and strong survivors, then where is the second half of this equation in Valentine? To be sure, we get our final girl, but in the grand scheme of things, she is the most dependent, most passive, and most accidental survivor; that is, she is the most conventionally and traditionally “girly” of the women in the film. In a roundabout way, Valentine‘s message is that women who overstep their bounds deserve physical, motional, and sexual abuse, because of how they perpetually victimize men. And so, what is actually scariest about Valentine is the film’s tacit attitude that these girls had it coming.