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MOVIE REVIEW

'I Hate Valentine's Day'

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding's' Nia Vardalos and John Corbett are awkward in their second pairing. Vardalos' directorial debut hampers the cliched romantic comedy.

July 03, 2009|Robert Abele

The title implies a cheeky slap at sentiment, but "I Hate Valentine's Day" comes from Nia Vardalos, the plucky writer and star of the highest-grossing romantic comedy in film history, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Nobody should be too concerned that cornball lovey-doveyness is in for a trip to the woodshed.

Rather, this directorial debut from Vardalos -- who plays Genevieve, an anti-commitment Brooklyn florist nevertheless obsessed with romance who struggles with falling for Greg, the new restaurateur on the block (John Corbett, reuniting with his "Wedding" costar) -- is seriously outfitted for chick-flick duty. Counseling gay friends? Check. Relationship-philosophizing gimmick? Check. (Genevieve's "rule" is five dates and out.) Liberal sprinkling of sarcastic one-liners? Check. This is a film with a mission: Get to the grand-gesture climax without disturbing any cliches in its path.

Movies can, of course, offer plenty of pleasure with the comfortably anticipated, and romantic comedies usually don't win audiences upending the natural order of girl gets boy. But all "I Hate Valentine's Day" adds up to is an awkward, ritualized date between moviegoer and a still-learning triple hyphenate. Not that Vardalos' by-the-numbers screenplay would have been mightily improved by an experienced director, but the amateurish point-and-shoot ethos and graceless, pause-heavy editing do her sporadically winning dialogue scenes no favors.

The most unfortunate casualty of the inexpert filmmaking is the peculiarly arch lead turn by Vardalos, who was last seen in theaters this spring in "My Life in Ruins." The intended effect may have been old-fashioned screwball heroine, but her ultra-coy Genevieve seems stuck in the frozen-smile closing shot of a toothpaste commercial.

A refreshingly voluptuous, vulnerable and wise comic presence when she shot to fame in the semiautobiographical "Wedding," Vardalos stumbles making Genevieve such an off-putting presence for so long. Watching Corbett's moon-faced nice guy spar unevenly with her, you'd never guess these two had the casual spark they showed in "Wedding." It seems that chemistry is one of the elements that, regrettably, went unchecked.

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'I Hate Valentine's Day'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexual content

Running time: 1 hour,

38 minutes

Playing: In limited release

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