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New Year's Eve

Abigail Breslin and Sarah Jessica Parker in "New Year's Eve"

In With The Old

New Year's Eve

Way back in 2003, when Richard Curtis wrote and directed Love, Actually, it seemed like a cheap trick: Come up with a bunch of ideas for romantic comedies, boil them down to their climaxes, and string all of those together in a single film, taking care to weave enough connections among the different characters to justify the hodgepodge.

Thing is, that’s not as easy to do as you might think. For proof, you have only to see New Year’s Eve, a movie that juggles a dozen or so relationships but only manages to score a few moments of genuine emotional connection (and those only through manipulative clichés—showing a woman dressing up to talk to her spouse in the military half a world away may put a lump in your throat, but trust me, the way it’s done here makes you feel abused.)

It’s all set on December 31 in Manhattan, which despite the winter garb on the large cast looks notably less than frigid. (How hard would it have been to have the digital effects guys add a little snow?) The various stories are all connected (loosely at times) to the famous Times Square party.

Hilary Swank is the newly promoted executive responsible for the public festivities. Katherine Heigl is the caterer feeding the corporate sidebar, where the entertainment is the rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) she broke up with a year ago. His backup singer (Glee’s Lea Michele) is stuck in an elevator with a neighbor (Ashton Kutcher) who hates the holidays. His roommate (Zac Efron) is a bicycle messenger who can score valuable tickets to the show if he fulfills the wish list of an administrative assistant (Michelle Pfeiffer in a mousy brown wig) who has just quit her job. Robert DeNiro is a dying man who wants to live long enough to see the ball drop one more time.

There’s more—oh lord, is there more—but you get the idea. Maybe if a few of these threads had been cut away, the rest might have had space to develop. Instead, we’re kept so busy rushing from character to character that we never have time to get to care about any of them.

It doesn’t help that it’s all as bland as the 1960s sitcoms where director Garry Marshall cut his teeth. Sarah Jessica Parker is the mother of a 15-year-old (Abigail Breslin) who is desperate to get to Times Square, where she expects to get her first kiss. I think even Ricky Nelson was more advanced than that, and Ozzie and Harriet didn’t even live in Manhattan.

Not that the city in New Year’s Eve looks much like the real New York: It’s about as racially diverse as Bedford Falls, aside from the occasional dark-skinned cop (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, looking bored out of his mind) or Latino stereotype (who told Sofía Vergara that the world is hungry for a new Charo?). Memo to the casting director: Male nurses are not prima facie gay.

I will forgive a movie almost anything, even the sight of a family driving a recreational vehicle into Manhattan on the busiest night of the year and actually finding a place on the street to park it, if it makes me laugh. But writer Katherine Fugate (Valentine’s Day, also directed by Marshall) mostly recycles the dullest kind of sitcom one-liners. Samples: “You’re a real hostile guy. Where do you work, the DMV?” “There are going to be more celebrities [at this party] than rehab”; “I don’t speak Spanish, I’m from Ohio.” And when she can’t come up with a joke, she’s happy to fall back on ethnic malapropisms: Wondering how her boss was able to guess something, Vergara burbles, “Are you psychotic?”

Perhaps realizing there’s nothing here to grab an audience, Marshall packs the screen with familiar faces—there are also Halle Berry, John Lithgow, Matthew Broderick, Halle Berry, Common, Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers, Til Schweiger, Carla Gugino, Russell Peters, James Belushi, Josh Duhamel, Larry Miller, Yeardley Smith, Cherry Jones, Ryan Seacrest, Marshall’s sister Penny, and the inevitable Hector Elizondo. Poking your seatmate and saying, “Hey, wasn’t that…” will probably get you through a lot of the two-hour running time.

New Year’s Eve does fill one dictate of a holiday movie: It’s no good, but it’s utterly inoffensive, and can be tolerated by the entire family (except those who have any kind of musical taste, who will need to visit the rest room during Jon Bon Jovi’s songs). It’s a big movie marshmallow—a little sweet, but mostly bland and insubstantial. And just as white.

Watch the trailer for New Year's Eve

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