With Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Hillary Swank, Ashton Kutcher; Written by Katherine Fugate; Directed by Garry Marshall; Rated PG-13 (for language including some sexual references); 117 minutes.
By next year, NEW YEAR’S EVE will be the movie that some basic cable channel will actually show on New Year’s Eve, and the lonely people who have nothing better to do will be watching it. So make your plans now so that you’re somewhere – anywhere – rather than stuck watching this clumsy and not-all-that-terribly funny alleged comedy. Veteran comedy director Garry Marshall, who seems to have learned nothing from the experience of the dreadful “Valentine’s Day,” is reunited with writer Katherine Fugate for a movie that so wishes it was “Love Actually.” The problem is that the characters would have to be fleshed out to be considered stick figures, the storylines don’t quite develop into enough material for a skit, and it’s the biggest waste of talented people since the last Oscar telecast.
The premise is that it’s New Year’s Eve, and numerous stories will be taking place in New York that day and night, some of them interconnected. For example there’s Michele Pfeiffer as, incredibly, a dowdy old maid who quits her job and hires a bike messenger (Zac Efron) to take her through her bucket list. Then there’s Robert De Niro as an old man dying of cancer who wants to go up on the roof of the hospital to see the electric ball drop in Times Square one last time. Meanwhile, in Times Square, Hillary Swank is in charge of the show, Ludacris is her friendly police officer, and Ryan Seacrest and Mayor Michael Bloomberg show up as themselves.
None of this is the least bit interesting, in part because we are never made to care about any of these characters. A comparison with “Love Actually” is instructive. Although some of the stories in that 2002 film are little more than sketches, many of them are genuinely engaging. In “New Year’s Eve,” we don’t care how any of the stories come out because the movie is little more than a game of “Spot The Star.” Oh look, there are cameos by Matthew Broderick and John Lithgow. Is that Halle Berry? What’s she doing in this? Perhaps all their mothers needed operations.
Even the performers who have shown they can handle light comedy, like Sarah Jessica Parker (as the single mom of a 15-year-old who wants to kiss her boyfriend in Times Square at midnight) and Josh Duhamel (as a guy who wants to see if he can meet the woman he kissed at midnight last year) are left high-and-dry by Fugate’s painfully unfunny script. And we haven’t even gotten to Seth Myers and Jessica Biel as an expectant couple hoping to win a prize for the first baby of the year, Jon Bon Jovi as a rock star who asked Katherine Heigl to marry him last New Year’s but then ran away, and Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele as a couple of strangers trapped in an elevator. Such is the “cleverness” of the script that Kutcher’s character hates New Year’s Eve while Michele’s character is supposed to be in Times Square singing back up for Bon Jovi.
It says something about “New Year’s Eve” that the biggest laugh in the movie is during the outtakes at the end when Robert DeNiro’s mocks Cary Elwes (playing his physician) when the latter blows his line. If you get stuck with this “New Year’s Eve,” better luck in 2012.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.