“New Year’s Eve” is a romantic comedy film with an all-star cast including Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ashton Kutcher, Zac Efron, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry, Seth Meyers, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michele, Abigail Breslin, Sofía Vergara, Katherine Heigl, Héctor Elizondo, Sacha Baron Cohen, Shia LaBeouf, Julia Roberts and Keanu Reeves…okay, the last few names don’t appear in the movie, but be honest, you would have been sold on my words alone given the countless other celebrity appearances.
The last time I saw a movie with such a walloping cast of fresh faces and venerated movie stars must’ve been last February when “Valentine’s Day,” a dreadfully banal, utterly cheerless and rarely romantic two-hour time waster, hit theaters. That movie was also directed by Garry Marshall, the man who brought television’s “Happy Days” into existence back in the 1970s. His movie career, however, has been about as exciting as untoasted bread. “Pretty Woman” has its loyal fans and “Frankie & Johnny” was liked by more than a few critics, but most of his other efforts are sugary, feel-good tripe that leaves the mind as soon as it enters. Out of all of them, “Valentine’s Day” may have very well been the worst; a vapid Hollywood romance movie that could only become a triumph on account of the two dozen familiar faces in the lead roles.
“New Year’s Eve”…is actually not as bad as the other hellacious holiday film. Granted, it’s still not “Love Actually” (which if you want a great interconnected multi-character romance story, that film is truly the way to go), but it does not fall as flat as the above mentioned “Valentine’s Day.” It’s not as slow, tedious or pandering, even if that ultimately translates to “a waste of time is better than a waste of time that makes you want to kick small animals after it is over with.”
Like it’s thematic predecessor, “New Year’s Eve” is told almost entirely on one day through a series of vignettes following different characters who are essentially proceeding toward the same basic goal. New York City is gearing up for its annual New Year’s Countdown in Times Square, and what would New Year’s Eve in New York be without that giant illuminated ball that slowly drops during the last minute of the year? It ushers in a brand new start for everyone and symbolizes the beginning of a new cycle. But uh-oh! It appears as though the ball has severely malfunctioned. It is stuck in place and a few of its lights blow out. An uneasy host Ryan Seacrest blurts out, “this would have never happened to Dick Clark!”
Meanwhile, a messenger boy in his early twenties takes a secluded older woman on a journey through all of New York to complete a checklist of her resolutions before the start of 2012. Two couples are in fierce competition to give birth to the first baby of the new year, the winner receiving a generous cash prize (that’s…kinda morbid). A man across town is determined to rendezvous with a woman in NYC whom he met exactly one year ago at a party. And perhaps most brazenly sentimental of all, a terminally ill man’s dying wish is to see that Times Square Ball drop one last time.
Also, there is a bearded hipster who cannot stand the blasted holiday who gets stuck in an elevator shaft with a backup singer. This girl is scheduled for a New Year’s gig for a rock music sensation played by vocalist Jon Bon Jovi, but oddly enough isn’t Jon Bon Jovi in the film. That seems weird. In “Valentine’s Day,” we had a character that dreaded the commercialism of February 14th, but it was somewhat believable in that case. The single life can be especially tough to slog through on a day whose traditional purpose is to celebrate romantic partnership. To me, getting upset about New Year’s makes about as much sense as hiring Jon Bon Jovi to play a musical artist that is NOT Jon Bon Jovi.
These mini-adventures are all merrily contrived and formulaic, and if that sounds like a delicious cup of tea with more than a few lumps of sugar to you, you are likely to enjoy “New Year’s Eve” on some level. I, on the other hand, remain dubious of the overwhelming star power involved in these types of projects. Looking at the cast list, I spot no less than twenty-four celebrities battling it out for screen time. According to Wikipedia, the film’s running time is 118 minutes, including about five minutes of closing credits. So using straightforward division to make a rough estimate, less than five minutes can be devoted to each character (that is, if time were evenly divided). Five minutes is simply not enough to make interesting and accessible personalities out of broad character types. And without three-dimensional characters or engrossing stories, “New Year’s Eve” can only be described as an exercise in the power of box-office draws, over-romanticism and unremitting product placement.