Remember your worst ever New Year’s Eve and multiply by ten

There are a million ways to verbally trash Garry Marshall’s (Pretty Woman) latest romcom. But it’s Christmas and I should be forgiving, not because it happens to be the central message of New Year’s Eve but because this is entertainment, after all – not life and death. Let me do it, then, as nicely and honestly as possible: New Year’s Eve is basically a winter version of Marshall’s 2010 film Valentine’s Day.

That basically means that we have a dizzyingly huge cast of attractive actors who except for Robert De Niro and Hector Elizondo show no sign of ageing. The fluffy skits are slightly less frantic than in Valentine’s Day but still on the jumpy side. And true to form, not one person on screen – except for the extras – looks or acts like a real human being. Bathed in gorgeous lighting, everyone radiates American sprightliness and excellent health. Every hair-do is chic, every tooth is bleached.

Somewhat in the style of the comparable but infinitely superior British film Love Actually, New Year’s Eve opens by painting a brief but serious view of the world as we know it. This calibrates our reference points before we suspend all disbelief and get misty-eyed. There’s a 9/11 reference early in Love Actually and there’s one here – the unfinished One World Trade Center appears during a collage of aerial shots of sunlit New York City. A faceless voice goes: “Some people swear there’s no beauty left in the world, no magic. Then how do you explain the entire world coming together on one night to celebrate the hope of a new year?” With that, the important themes have been artlessly indicated. We’re in for a homage to New York, new beginnings and the end of the year.

We meet our 20 focal characters, give or take, with 12 hours to midnight on the 31st. If you can forgive the lack of a solid, original storyline, itÂ’ll amuse you to follow them as they deal with whatever obstacles keep them from meeting a loved one before midnight. I hope it will, as New YearÂ’s Eve contains no funny allusions to intrigue you otherwise, no philosophical angles, no cliffhangers, no humour, and very little substance. I found it a tepid, shallow and predictable farce full of trivial problems. I suppose the magic happens when, whether logistic, mechanical or emotional, each of these problems is defeated by a lot of New Year spirit.

The best of the episodes involves the retired photographer Stan (De Niro), a crushed man dying from cancer in a New York hospital. His only wish is to see the Time Square Ball drop one last time. His sympathetic nurse (played decently by Berry) canÂ’t allow it but punches out in time for StanÂ’s daughter (Swank) to enter the wing.

The worst and truly toe-curling episode involves two pregnant couples vying for the $25,000 prize awarded to the hospitalÂ’s first parents in the New Year. Seth Meyers and Til Schweiger, playing the fathers-to-be, are acutely aware that their lines stink; Jessica Biel and Sarah Paulson couldnÂ’t play pregnant women less convincingly. I honestly canÂ’t recall comedy as offensively mediocre as this.

Marshall makes many mistakes in New YearÂ’s Eve and for one his cast is too big. The recent star-sprinkled romcoms You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Crazy, Stupid Love both demonstrate how less may indeed be more. Another problem is the episodic plot structure that so easily sacrifices quality for quantity. But thereÂ’s an upside of that: if itÂ’s feel-good fluff youÂ’re after, hereÂ’s enough for a whole year.

New YearÂ’s Eve (3)

Dir: Garry Marshall; US rom com, 2011, 118 mins; Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hilary Swank, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Zac Efron

Premiered December 08, Playing nationwide

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