From the people who sold you last year's "Valentine's Day" comes "New Year's Eve," another jumbled romantic comedy made of expensive stars and cheap corn. The first film had split-second glimmers of charm, but no such luck in this quick dash for box-office cash.
Screenwriter Katherine Fugate again whips up a dozen cutesy mini-plots, this time set against a touristy-looking New York City on Dec. 31, and director Garry Marshall again hands out roles seemingly at random. Among the almost-interesting stories are a young bike messenger (Zac Efron) helping an aging secretary (Michelle Pfeiffer) with a list of resolutions; a single mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) wrangling her rebellious teenager (Abigail Breslin); and a race between the Byrnes (Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers) and the Schwabs (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger) to squeeze out the year's first baby (Carla Gugino is the exasperated doctor).
But Marshall wastes his best actors and spends his time unwisely. Robert De Niro and Halle Berry do basic hack work as a dying journalist and a kindly nurse; Katherine Heigl and Jon Bon Jovi have zero chemistry as a brokenhearted caterer and -- surprise! -- a famous rocker; Ashton Kutcher, the movie's main dish, gets sidelined here as a grouchy slacker trapped in an elevator with an aspiring singer (Lea Michele). Josh Duhamel's vapid playboy and Hilary Swank's Times Square staffer (she's in charge of the big ball) are impossible to care about but suck up much of the movie.
Despite Marshall's prodigious organizational skills (imagine juggling all those schedules!), the film feels chopped together in a near-panic. Dialogue is dubbed into non-moving mouths, actors fumble with their props and nobody remembered to make Manhattan look even slightly wintry (Kutcher saunters through Times Square in flannel pajamas). "New Year's Eve" is a perfect example of why the adjective "Hollywood" is so often used as a pejorative.
PLOT A couple dozen New Yorkers criss and cross on the last day of the year. RATING PG-13 (mild language, adult themes)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A charmless, soulless cash-in from the people who sold you "Valentine's Day"
Back story: Stars were out, but not together
The logistical nightmare of scheduling and filming so many stars was "an enormous challenge," says "New Year's Eve" director Garry Marshall. "So whoever showed up, we shot, and we followed their stories."
Many in the huge ensemble cast didn't even meet for the first time until a recent media day to promote the movie, because they weren't in the same scenes.
The filmmakers also opted to shoot the famous ball drop and crowds in Times Square on Dec. 31, 2010, making it the first feature film to capture the 106-year-old New Year's event live.
"The biggest thing I helped to do was hug [the actors], not because I was so attractive, but because they were all freezing," Marshall recalled.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays against type as Ingrid, a timid, mousy assistant who throws caution to the wind when she makes a deal with Zac Efron's bike-messenger character to help her get a fast start on some long-delayed resolutions.
"Riding [Zac's] motorcycle was a challenge, but the elements were the biggest," said Pfeiffer. "The weather was one and the paparazzi were out in full force . . . and Gary was constantly talking Zac and I off a ledge."