It’s quite disconcerting when people in the theater laugh at something they’re supposed to laugh at — even if it isn’t funny. That’s the way I felt during the entire two-hour running time of Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve, his “superior” sequel to 2010’s Valentine’s Day (though that isn’t saying very much).
I don’t know, maybe this long-winded and convoluted tale of the loves and lives of 20-plus individuals on the last day of 2011 was hilarious at its core, but being the Philistine that I am, maybe I just did not get the humor. As it stands, New Year’s Eve, as a “star-studded” film, is nowhere near as captivating as say, Grand Canyon, Bobby or Magnolia, although it was certainly a better comedy than The Hangover Part 2 (but, then again, most memorial services rate in that department).
The film stars — in no particular order of talent or popularity — Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Halle Berry, Alyssa Milano, Cary Elwes, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Jessica Beal, Chris “Ludicris” Bridges, Common, Hilary Swank, Jon Bon Jovi, Katherine Heigl, Til Schweiger, James Belushi, Ryan Seacrest, Hector Elizondo, Josh Duhamel, John Lithgow, Abigail Breslin, Yeardly Smith, Larry Miller, Leah Michele, Sarah Paulson, Sofia Vergara, Penny Marshall, Matthew Broderick and, unfortunately, Robert De Niro.
Oh, and before you think that’s the end of the pain, New Year’s Eve also features Sarah Jessica Parker, fresh off of three straight critical failures, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Sex and the City 2, as well as I Don’t Know How She Does It. The so-called plot is wrapped around the lowering of the ball in New York’s Times Square and has Claire (Swank) in charge of the proceedings with NYPD officer Brendon (Bridges) as her personal bodyguard.
Other confusing story lines include super chef Laura (Heigl) hooking up with rock star Jensen (Bon Jovi) — while Vergara does an embarrassing Latina stereotype, record executive Sam (Duhamel) trapped with a backwoods family in an RV, Kim (Parker) fighting with teen daughter Hailey (Breslin), Stan Harris (De Niro) dying in a hospital and being cared for by Aimee (Berry), New Year’s Eve-hating Randy (Kutcher) stuck in an elevator with Jensen’s backup singer Elise (Michele), while couples Griffin and Tess Byrne (Meyers and Biel) and James and Grace Schwab (Schweiger and Paulson) battle to see who will have the first New Year’s baby in New York.
And wrapped around all of this is bicycle messenger Paul (Efron) trying to fulfill all the ridiculous wishes of wallflower Ingrid (Pfeiffer, think The Bucket List without the laughs), most of which seem impossible to achieve, including a trip to Bali, saving a life and performing at Radio City Music Hall. Not bad for a bicycle messenger (that’s Hollywood for you).
Alas, whereas unlike “Bobby,” there is no Sirhan Sirhan to show up and herald the end of the misery. Here, we get resolutions made, broken and then realized, loose ends neatly tied and lost love regained.
It’s a valiant effort by Marshall (who helmed the iconic TV series Happy Days and went on to direct fluff feature films with varying levels of success such as Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries and Runaway Bride, among others), but with little to no character development, confusion so thick, and plot lines that cross back-and-forth so much, New Year’s Eve plays out more like a train wreck.
A train wreck — a sad, but more than adequate description of this motion picture.