Intertwining couples and singles in Los Angeles break-up and make-up based on the pressures and expectations of Valentine's Day.

Where’s that massacre when you need it...?

If there’s anyone out there who pines for that long-rumoured big screen version of the '90s schlock-com Friends, they may be appeased by the saccharine sentimentality and excruciating comedy that oozes from Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day like a gooey, soft-centred chocolate.

Valentine’s Day is a shrill, pantomimic insult to audience intelligence, which will register as the worst film on a lot of good actors’ resumes; Katherine Fugate’s deeply flawed script, which trots out every putrid Cupid-cliché, is surely the weakest – and certainly the least ambitious – of any major studio release in recent memory.

Marshall, who’s been dining out on the success of Pretty Woman for a decade too long, directs his all-star cast with the pedestrian eye and static camera that has become this TV-trained hack’s trademark. It would take considerable planning to so completely extinguish the charisma and likability of Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx in a single film, but Marshall achieves this feat effortlessly. It is as if he deliberately set out to dismantle the current Hollywood A-list in one fell swoop. Mind you, the lesser talents in the cast (Jessica Alba, Taylor Lautner, Eric Dane) and those still finding their film-footing (Emma Roberts, Topher Grace, Jennifer Garner, Taylor Swift) don’t fare any better; Marshall seems to have left them to their own devices entirely. Precocious 11 year-old Bryce Robinson, as a lovestruck, pre-pubescent Romeo called Edison, is simply vile.

The film is structured as a hodge-podge of narrative strands, too numerous and inconsequential to bother listing (or watching). The nearest the film comes to a central character is florist Reed Bennett (Kutcher, at his cocky, gaping-mouthed best/worst), who acts as a conduit between some of the story strands. The film lurches from one lame, far-fetched scenario to the next, replacing natural dialogue with glib sound bites that beg to be accompanied by canned laughter. After 80 minutes of pratfalls and puddle-deep philosophising, Marshall and Fugate start pushing some of the most manipulative buttons this reviewer has ever seen, as if the audience would suddenly care for the sketchy caricatures we’ve been forced to endure up to that point.

Valentine’s Day echoes the thematic structure of Ken Kwapis’ equally banal but technically superior date movie, He’s Just Not That Into You (2009). As a megawatt feel-good film, it also harks back to the star-studded, studio-packaged vehicles of Old Hollywood (1932’s Grand Hotel and MGM’s depression-era Broadway Melody series), where scripts took a back seat to soft close-ups of matinee idols; and – perhaps unintentionally – it shares much in common with producer Irwin Allen’s disaster pics of the 1970s (The Swarm; Beyond The Poseidon Adventure), which also featured a lot of stars in really bad films.

For many of us, St. Valentine’s Day is little more than a canny corporate exercise to stave off a post-Christmas lull; the same can be said of the film that bears the same name – it’s just like any other cheap and gaudy piece of junk manufactured to turn a profit in mid-Feb. By all means, share St. Valentine’s Day with a loved-one, but do it at home with your own heartfelt expressions of desire. Don’t be conned by a poster featuring the vacuous grins of air-brushed stars, into believing that sharing Hollywood’s pre-packaged version of love is anymore romantic – it isn’t.