REVIEW: New Year's Eve is the Movie Equivalent of a Plastic-Wrapped American Cheese Slice

Movieline Score: 4

Who are these beautiful, sharply dressed, slightly orange people gliding so effortlessly through a glittery, postcard-worthy version of New York in New Year's Eve? They're stars, of course, a galaxy of stars of varying luminescence. New Year's Eve is Garry Marshall's follow-up to last year's Valentine's Day, which he also directed, and like that film it uses its titular holiday as a ruthless star delivery system in which a menagerie of assembled celebs sprints through a collection of interconnected narrative threads that briskly accelerate from alleged comedy to syrupy sentimentality.

You're not going to see anyone in New Year's Eve get drunk, kiss their married boss, vomit and then barricade themselves in the bathroom to spend the rest of the night crying, no sir. Happy endings abound for everyone here, even the terminally ill and the woman who dares to wear clogs. Clogs! (Fetching ones with shearling trim and four-inch heels, but whatever -- burn her!) To note that the storylines in New Year's Eve are ludicrous and virulently cliched seems beside the point, or simply unimportant. These characters are so nominal that when, say, Lea Michele gets stuck in an elevator with Ashton Kutcher, that's exactly how you think of the set-up, and when the doors finally open you half expect them to scurry off to the sets of Glee and Two and a Half Men, where they may be contractually fined for their tardiness.

But for the sake of capturing the full scope of this motion picture, here's a bullet point summary of the many goings-on:

· The VP of the Times Square Alliance (Hilary Swank) and her faithful police minion (Ludacris) prepare for the Midtown celebration and manage a crisis when the ball gets stuck halfway up, a technical snag that requires the calling in of legendary ambiguously ethnic electrician Kominsky (Hector Elizondo).

· An uptight caterer (Katherine Heigl, natch) works an event at which her famous rock-star ex Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) is playing, while her sous chef (Sofía Vergara, turning her likable Modern Family shtick up to intolerable levels) looks on.

· A young pregnant couple (Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers) race another couple (Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger) to have the first baby of the year and win a $25,000 prize.

· A dying man (Robert De Niro) just wants to see the ball drop one last time, but the mean hospital won't let him. His nurse (Halle Berry) keeps him company.

· A dowdy secretary (Michelle Pfeiffer) hires a free-spirited bike messenger (Zac Efron) to help her fulfill a decade's worth of new year's resolutions in one day.

· An uptight costume designer (Sarah Jessica Parker, natch) doesn't want her teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin) to go to Times Square.

· An exec (Josh Duhamel) hitches a ride with a wacky family in order to get back to his company party in time to make a speech and rendezvous with a mystery lady he met last year.

· And, as mentioned, Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele get stuck in an elevator and fall in lurve.

I may have forgotten one or two. Yeardley Smith, John Lithgow, Carla Gugino, James Belushi, Cary Elwes, Cherry Jones, Matthew Broderick and others make appearances as well, and Ryan Seacrest plays himself, since he was presumably there anyway -- the film somewhat awkwardly folds in footage from last year's Times Square celebration, with a Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (also a Warner Bros. release!) billboard prominently grafted in.

Less a film than a product, New Year's Eve is so carefully calculated as to be, in its own way, admirable. It's innocuous enough to accommodate families, if not little children. It has a wide enough range of talent on offer that both your grandmother and your tween niece should see someone they recognize. It's inoffensive unless you're put off by the fact that one of the moms-to-be is willing to schedule an unnecessary C-section in order to compete for prize money ("May the best vajayjay win!" = actual line of dialogue), that both Vietnam and Iraq are unabashedly worked in, or by the film's overall soullessness. There's not an intentional laugh to be found, though at the screening I attended there were guffaws at a moment involving a character gasping "Wait! If you're here, who's at Times Square?" and the reveal that followed.

Next up, I'd imagine, will probably be Christmas, though I wouldn't put it past Thanksgiving to sneak in there, given it's been less than a decade since Love Actually and there's no rush -- new, more affordable celebrities are minted every day. In the meanwhile, it's worth pondering the outtakes that run over the closing credits and that are the phoniest part of this insincere endeavor, striving to present an old-fashioned illusion that the film was a cheery group endeavor in which everyone had a great time together instead of a staggered shoot in which people flew in for an efficient few days on set before heading off to their next gig. This is business, folks, not fun -- everyone can take a cup of kindness when the box office grosses roll in.

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  • The WInchester says:

    Why couldn't Paul Verhoeven have made this movie? At least then there'd be rampant violence, nudity, and overt Nazi symbolism to tide me over while having to watch a 30 foot large Lea Michelle.

  • Charles says:

    If ever a type of movie didn't require critical input, it's these gazillion-stars-at-5-minutes-a-pop jobs. There's never been a good one, and I doubt there ever will be.

  • bateman m says:

    Dialog in the "photo above" ...
    "So look ... this is the handshake I learnt at the Kabbalah classes -- it means you won't get pregnant when we have unsafe sex, regardless of whether my bodyguard is waiting outside my room dressed as a priest or not ...." ...

  • Shemp says:

    My brilliant theory (sarcasm, y'know): Why do so many of these "all-star"-type movies suck so badly? Because someone - producer, director, somebody - figures that if they can pack a TON of "big" and medium-sized names into a movie, perhaps audiences won't notice that ths script (if there is one) sucks so darn badly.
    One other thing: Rob De Niro, formerly one of the best American actors alive, will now appear in ANYthing if the check clears. Anything. It used to be if there was a new movie starring De Niro, it was practically an event - not no more, tho. Oh yes, this too: Hilary Swank is a wh*re.

  • Charles says:

    I completely agree about De Niro, Shemp. That had to be the most depressing part of watching the theatrical trailer for this movie: seeing his face near the end.