If you've managed to make it through two hours of "New Year's Eve" with the idea that it's about anything more than box office returns and home entertainment bank, Warner Bros., New Line and director Garry Marshall are more than happy to set you straight. In a largely unfunny series of credits bloopers, Jessica Biel's character gives birth to twins, and she couldn't be happier to have "Valentine's Day" pop out of her vagina in both DVD and Blu-ray formats (on sale now!). We're not naive enough to imagine that studio films are purely about artistry (and not cynical enough to think that it's never present), but we wish those behind "New Year's Eve" had at least pretended they were trying to entertain us while they rummage through our pockets for loose change.
A sequel in spirit to Marshall's "Valentine's Day," "New Year's Eve" follows the same formula: pack as many A-listers (and B and C-listers) into a series of mini, intersecting romantic comedies as possible, pairing them up and making sure that everyone's stories end happily ever after when the credits finally roll. Hilary Swank plays the newly appointed vice president of the Times Square Alliance whose first major test is the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. Katherine Heigl is a caterer whose holiday gig just so happens to reunite her with former flame–and chart-topping rock star–Jensen (played by Jon Bon Jovi). Abigail Breslin is the 15-year-old daughter of Sarah Jessica Parker who is desperate to spend her evening in Times Square with the cute boy from her history class. Robert De Niro is dying in a hospital with nurse Halle Berry comforting him by his side, and he only wants to make it to midnight to see the ball drop. Josh Duhamel is stranded in Connecticut and is desperate to make it into the city by midnight. Michelle Pfeiffer hires douchey bike messenger Zac Efron to help her achieve her whimsical 2011 New Year's resolutions ("Go to Bali," "Save a life," "Be amazed," etc.) in the span of one day. Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers are desperate to beat out a rival couple (Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson) to have the first baby of 2012–and win a cash prize. Finally, slacker Ashton Kutcher and high-strung Lea Michele (playing against type, of course) are new neighbors stuck in an elevator. Throw in appearances from Alyssa Milano, Jim Belushi, Cary Elwes, Yeardley Smith, Carla Gugino, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Cherry Jones, Ryan Seacrest, Joey McIntyre, Michael Bloomberg, John Lithgow, Sofia Vergara and Marshall regulars Larry Miller and Hector Elizondo, and you've got a movie or something.
Generally, reviews at The Playlist refer to characters by their names in the film (rather than the actors playing them), but since "New Year's Eve" makes little effort to make us know (or care) about the names of each player, it's not worth bothering with here. As with most ensemble films, there are stronger characters and storylines and then there are ones that would get the shit kicked out of them (and deserve it, too). We couldn't muster the effort to care if Bon Jovi and Heigl get together in the end or spend time wondering why Efron's messenger was such a tool, but we were moved and pleasantly surprised by Berry's storyline and we'll admit to laughing at the dueling dilations of Biel and the oft-underrated Paulson. No one's on screen long enough to make much of an impression in the acting department, and the makeup is more memorable than most of the performances.
Marshall is a workmanlike director who generally knows his audience, and he's had success with "Pretty Woman" and its teenage equivalent "The Princess Diaries." With "New Year's Eve," he's targeting women of all ages, offering teens Efron while middle-aged women get to sigh over Bon Jovi and dream that they, too, could get a New Year's Eve kiss from a sexy younger man like the women here do. Embarrassingly, his directorial touch is most evident when the camera lingers for far too long and favors reaction shots of the one anonymous actress in this bunch, who turns out to be Marshall's wife.
Sadly, "New Year's Eve" isn't even the type of enjoyably bad film that's made better by large quantities of friends or alcohol (or both). Its jokes are bland, never really earning a huge laugh or even a snicker from the audience, and no one is going to swoon over the inevitable kiss between could-be couples they've spent all of 12 cinematic minutes with. What's most troubling here is the speed with which "New Year's Eve" seems cobbled together. There's no evidence of effort in the script, editing, directing or effects, but in keeping with the general theme of greed, they did manage to find the time to digitally add in a building-sized ad for the upcoming Warner Bros. release "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." [D+]