The bland lead the bland through a sea of New Year’s revelers and Times Square product placement in “New Year’s Eve,” Garry Marshall’s bloated all-star follow-up to his “comeback,” “Valentine’s Day.”
It’s a cluttered, slow-footed romantic comedy in search of comedy, and in search of romance.
Characters scramble to make it to Times Square on time to see the ball drop, to make the ball drop, to get out of their deathbed to watch one last ball drop. They give birth, collect their first kiss, try to fall for a perfect stranger or dash through a lifetime of missed experiences in those last few hours of 2011.
What can you say about a New Year’s Eve movie with barely so much as a kiss? What can you say about a screenwriter (Katherine Fugate) who doesn’t know the difference between New Year’s resolutions and a “bucket list”? What do you say to a director who put more effort into cutting and staging his closing credits outtakes than the movie that precedes them?
Michelle Pfeiffer is the haggard (seriously haggard) secretary who quits her job and talks a bike messenger (Zac Efron) into making her “list” come true — “Save a life, go to Bali, walk the five boroughs of New York, be amazed …”
Lea Michele is the backup singer trapped on an elevator with New Year’s hater Ashton Kutcher.
Hilary Swank is the frazzled Times Square official who has to make the ball drop, and get in all those product plugs, on the square’s biggest night.
Halle Berry is the caring nurse who wants a dying Robert De Niro to have his wish, to see that ball drop one more time.
Abigail Breslin is the teen who wants to escape from her single mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet a boy whom she plans to kiss at the stroke of midnight.
Katherine Heigl and Sofia Vergara are chefs catering a big record company party, where Heigl’s ex (Jon Bon Jovi) is the star attraction.
And so on.
So many characters, so many plotlines, and not one of them is developed enough to make us care or even to deliver more than a random laugh. The Pfeiffer-Efron storyline, worn as it is, has the most spark and most promise. Nobody else shows even a hint of chemistry. And do we really need to see ‘Little Miss Sunshine“ Breslin lift her shirt to declare, ”This is NOT a training bra!“ for her inexplicably smothering mom?
Still, as New Year’s parties go, this one is harmless enough. But even without the hangover, Marshall leaves us and his cast with plenty of regrets.