Director Garry Marshall apparently didn’t think we suffered quite enough with his soul-destroyingly bland Valentine’s Day last year, and thus, subjects the more masochistic members of the human race to another round of torture with a seasonal companion piece, in New Year’s Eve. Quite indisputably one of the worst films of the year, Marshall appears to have learned little – if anything – from the poor reception of his last film, churning out a tiresome and somehow even more infuriating celebrity orgy which does little other than cynically line the pockets of those involved.
Much like the last film, the format is that of an indiscriminate anthology, cursorily juxtaposing the lives of irritating, often over-privileged characters whose romantic woes boast stakes of such subterranean consequence that it’s a dare to become even remotely involved, beyond actively wishing the film to end as quickly as possible. This overstuffed compendium of lukewarm meet-cutes is strictly Soap Opera 101, with the talents of countless skilled performers being wasted on contrived set-ups and trite truisms.
Rickety situations can, however, survive on the strength of strong roles, but Marshall’s film struggles here too; characters are quite clearly written with the intention of evoking a certain emotion, yet they act in such annoying or idiotic ways, that it’s hard to root for, sympathise or even remotely care about them. For instance, Zac Efron’s boy-wonder character – who spends the film helping Michelle Pfeifer’s timid Ingrid rebuild her confidence – is quite obviously meant to be a slick charmer, but the script renders him obnoxious and irksome. Sarah Jessica Parker, meanwhile, essentially reprises her Sex and the City role for the umpteenth time – reworked slightly as a protective mother to a daughter played by an almost unrecognisably grown-up Abigail Breslin – and Robert De Niro spends his screen time confined to a hospital bed, whittling away his final hours on Earth with a kind nurse (Halle Berry).
More curious are the returning presences of Ashton Kutcher and Hector Elizondo, both of whom played prominent roles in Valentine’s Day and who, one would expect, would continue the arcs of their characters here. Peculiarly, both in fact play entirely separate roles – Elizondo even having a different accent – such that their re-casting feels awkward and pointless given the film’s obvious placement as a spiritual successor. Still, at least they get a wealth of screen time, whereas Alyssa Milano walks in and out of the film with a 30-second cameo, while James Belushi and Matthew Broderick get maybe a minute a piece. Hell, even New York’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, gets his oar in for a few seconds.
On a basic level, this is just a film that doesn’t make much sense; the characters insipidly ascribe a mystical quality onto the night, one which feels achingly forced and utterly disingenuous. Are people really this desperate to kiss someone when the clock strikes midnight? Is it the end of the world if Times Square’s New Year ceremony doesn’t quite go to plan? The film’s various situations gel loosely together to form a stodgy, exhaustively long outing which juggles too many narrative threads and fleets between them without much care why or when, such that the “gotcha!” moments in which the various stories intersect feel positively pedestrian and not the least bit intelligent.
It’s a bad sign when the film’s funniest moment is a blooper relegated to the credits involving Cary Elwes and a quick-witted quip from Robert De Niro. Even as a straight drama, though, it just can’t muster the emotional togetherness or genuine sensibility to engage or engross; it is the most crass of Hollywood products, pieced together without due diligence, keen to part undemanding holiday audiences with their money. Despite having amassed a roster of roughly thirty bonafide film stars and respected character actors, New Year’s Eve is nothing more than a glorified cameo carousel, and a laughably schmaltzy, punishingly dull one at that.
New Year’s Eve is out in cinema’s today.