Unfortunately, director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate don't even live up to the very low bar set by Valentine's Day with the follow-up, New Year's Eve. Please, please, please - can we put a stop to this madness now? No more films with dozens of big names playing strangers meeting and falling in love on holidays only to find out they know each other's families or their kids are dating or they have the same doctor/lawyer/teacher/dog walker. Actually, the dog walking bit might be fun because it's nearly impossible not to smile when a four-legged thespian is on screen (unless you're not into animals). And smiles are in such short supply with New Year's Eve, throwing in a random dog walking episode could have livened up the joint.
Marshall and Fugate never get the party started in this New Year's Eve tale, with the pacing sluggish and the cast of seemingly thousands flitting in and out without accomplishing anything other than annoying the audience. As with Valentine's Day, character development is tossed out in lieu of shoving in as many recognizable faces as possible. Forget getting to actually know these New Year's Eve celebrants as Marshall and Fugate make no effort to flesh out any of the central players.
We've got a wealthy ladies man (Josh Duhamel) who's thinking of going monogamous, a single mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) struggling to connect with her teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin), and a caterer (Katherine Heigl) who secretly used to be in a serious relationship with a rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) and who's forced into confronting their past when she lands the biggest job of her career catering a music industry bash where the rock star's set to perform. Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers are a married couple who compete with Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger to deliver their baby first on New Year's day in order to get a big cash prize. Robert De Niro's storyline as a man dying of cancer who wants to see the ball drop one last time grinds the film to a halt (even with Cary Elwes and Halle Berry playing his doctor and nurse, respectively). And Hilary Swank feels the most out of place of all the cast, playing the stressed-out acrophobic who's the Times Square Alliance VP in charge of making sure the countdown and ball drop go off without a hitch. Then there's Zac Efron as a bike messenger who makes all of Michelle Pfeiffer's dreams come true, but in a strictly G-rated fashion. Last but not least of the main storylines, Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele play neighbors trapped for hours in an elevator with Michele's future career as a back up singer hanging in the balance.
It's impossible to stuff a cast with this many big name actors and not have quite a few of them get lost in the shuffle. So, scratch Robert De Niro's storyline, dramatically trim up everything having to do with Sarah Jessica Parker's character, give Hilary Swank something interesting to do, and New Year's Eve might not have been half bad. Cut back a little on Heigl and Bon Jovi, let Sofia Vergara strut her stuff (she plays a member of Heigl's catering staff), and pump up the comedy by letting Meyers, Biel, Paulson and Schweiger play around more in the delivery room. Although with their storyline I have to point out no way are only two couples at this huge New York hospital expecting to deliver close to midnight on New Year's Eve, a fact which is confirmed in a subsequent scene in which we see the nursery full of newborns.
Without the Taylors, New Year's Eve probably won't perform as well at the box office as its predecessor (Valentine's Day grossed $63 million its opening weekend). But with the dearth of romantic comedies and audiences ready for lighter fare during awards season, New Year's Day will find an audience. However, those who pay for this one should add "don't get suckered into seeing bad movies" to their list of New Year's resolutions.
GRADE: D+ (the end credits sequence is far better than the film itself so be sure to stick around for it)
New Year's Eve was directed by Garry Marshall and is rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: December 9, 2011