Harmless, but predictable 'New Year's Eve' sings same old song
Picture this: Times Square, New York City, New Year's Eve. Crowds have been amassing all day to see the giant glitter ball hoisted up to the top of its pole, to drop down again at the stroke of midnight. But as the festivities begin, and the ball starts to go up—oh no!—it gets stuck halfway up the pole. Will it get to the top in time? Can the new year begin if the ball doesn't drop? These are among the many burning questions posed in the ensemble romantic comedy, New Year's Eve, but audiences may be asking themselves a different question: what are a bunch of nice Oscar winners (and nominees) doing in a movie like this?
The short answer is: collecting a paycheck. The ensemble romantic comedy Valentine's Day was a big enough hit back in 2010 that distributor Warner Brothers reunited director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate for this retread. It's not a sequel, there are no characters in common between the two movies, it's just the same formula transplanted from L.A. to New York, in which a vaguely interconnected group of folks try to realize their holiday expectations. Formulaic, too, is the quality of the storytelling. Well-meaning and eager to please, New Year's Day amounts to little more than a collection of sitcom gags, predictable romance, and inspirational speeches about love, hope, and second chances.
Nevertheless, a jaw-dropping array of talent and/or Hollywood A-listers pop up in the mix. Hilary Swank starts the ball rolling, literally, as Claire, the Times Square PR director responsible for getting the glitter ball up and running on the big night. Caterer Laura (Katherine Heigl) arrives in the kitchen of a downtown hotel to prep for a swanky record company party she's throwing that night. But her mission is complicated by her history with the party's star musical attraction, a rocker called Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) who has all the other women swooning, particularly Laura's hot-blooded Latina assistant (Sofia Vergara, of Modern Family).
Paul (Zac Efron), a frisky young courier on a motorbike, teams up for the day with uptight executive secretary, Ingrid (a character so repressed, you might not even recognize Michelle Pfeiffer in a brunette wig), who promises him tickets to the swanky party if he'll help her realize all the dreams on her wish-list in one day. (Actually, his solutions to seemingly impossible wishes, like "visit Bali" or "a trip around the world," are the cleverest bits in the film.) Meanwhile, his slacker roommate, Randy (Ashton Kutcher) who hates New Year's Eve, is in the process of throwing out all the tinsel decorations when he gets stuck in the elevator with new neighbor, Elise (Lea Michele, from Glee), an aspiring singer on her way to a gig singing back-up for Jensen at the party.
Single mom Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker), a costumer for the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, won't let her 15-year-old daughter, Hailey (Abigail Breslin) go down to Times Square with a bunch of her friends—even though Hailey is expecting her first kiss. Playboy and record company heir Sam (Josh Duhamel) has to hitchhike in from Connecticut with a suburban family to keep an important midnight date. And empathetic hospital nurse, Aimee (Halle Berry) sits up all evening with crusty, dying patient, Stan (Robert De Niro).
These vignettes are brought off with varying degrees of success. Probably the lamest subplot involves two expectant couples (Jessica Biel and Seth Myers, and Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson) going to extreme levels of competitive stupidity to induce labor in order to produce the first baby born in the new year and collect a $25,000 prize. (Although Carla Gugino is pretty funny as the ladies' touch-feely, yet no-nonsense obstetrician.)
De Niro and Berry contribute a heartwarming pathos that their underwritten characters (and the movie) don't deserve. Parker gets to wear some fabulous shoes, Lea Michelle sings "Auld Lang Syne" as a power ballad, and everything plays out pretty much as you expect. Considerable goodwill is generated in the funny outtakes reel during the closing credits, but not quite enough to redeem this harmless, but underwhelming holiday affair.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
★★(out of four)
With Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro. Written by Katherine Fugate. Directed by Garry Marshall. A Warner Bros release. Rated PG-13. 118 minutes.
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