Imagine the most cloyingly sentimental, unimaginatively clichéd Hallmark card you can think of. Now imagine a feature-length film based on that card. Voila, you have New Year's Eve.
While attending the preview screening for Garry Marshall's latest holiday ensemble rom-com, a fellow critic came up with the title I wished I had thought of: "Hate, Actually."
Stringing together a dozen underwritten sitcom relationships — from a teen (Abigail Breslin) hoping for a magical first kiss to a rock icon (Jon Bon Jovi) hoping to reunite with his ex (kiss of death Katherine Hiegl) to Sarah Jessica Parker's last minute transformation from a clog-wearing single mom to Carrie Bradshaw 1.5 (fabulous pumps included) — New Year's Eve is Hollywood at its laziest, most moronic and least imaginative. Katherine Fugate's insipid script is shamelessly contrived, comically tone-deaf and readymade for enough mugging celebrities to fill an Irwin Allen disaster flick. And if the joyless, wit-free storylines aren't enough to dampen your spirits, the shameless product placements will. (Is Disaronno and Cranberry Juice anybody's favorite drink?)
Watching Robert De Niro put yet another nail in the coffin of his career is bad enough (and here, he's really, really bad), but et tu Michelle Pfeiffer? I expect such behavior from Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry and Jessica Biel, but not the woman who knocked it out of the park in The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Age of Innocence. As if to deepen Pfeiffer's onscreen humiliation, Marshall has her play a frumpy middle-aged secretary whose greatest moment is to swing back and forth across the stage at Radio City Music Hall in a half-assed I Love Lucy gag.
The rest of the star-studded cast falls somewhere between cashing a quick paycheck and desperately grabbing for attention. Hilary Swank once again proves that two Oscars were probably one more than she deserved (there's no denying her performance in Boys Don't Cry) while Zac Efron and Lea Michele barely register as human beings. Nevertheless, we're forced to hear Michele sing not once, not twice, but three times. A potentially interesting health care square-off between SNL's Seth Meyers and Til Schweiger goes nowhere, and Larry Miller lands the only jokes worth chuckling over. (Side note: Can Hollywood please declare a moratorium on oversexed Latina sidekicks and goofy Indian subordinates?)
Just outside New Year's Eve's cynical melting pot of all-white romance stands Ludacris, looking ... well, the name says it all. Amid the throngs of celebrating Caucasians, he seems to be the sole black person living or working in Manhattan. And as Marshall shoots him, Swank is the only person on screen who even acknowledges his presence. Which is an apt metaphor for a movie that casually dismisses the anxieties of modern America with bromides like: Have a little faith, you just need a man in your life, and the new year gives you a second chance to make everything better. See, it's all on you, Occupy Wall Street. If you'd just take a bath and find that special someone to snuggle up with everything will be A-OK.
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