Here’s something sort of bizarre – director Garry Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate‘s latest star-crammed desecration of random, non-religious holidays is not monumentally or irremediably terrible. It is also not good, but it’s certainly better than its predecessor, the rancid Valentine’s Day (though that’s not saying much). New Year’s Eve is not so much a film as a gimmick – tons of stars! lots of plots! all kind of connected! just one day! – and such a gimmick can yield some unexpectedly positive results just as often as it can ending up being simply terrible entertainment not worthy of being called cinema. New Year’s Eve is not so much a film as a two-hour piece of wish fulfillment for the sort of people who read US Weekly on, well, a weekly basis. Unlike Valentine’s Day, its very existence is not offensive, but it’s bloated and kind of boring and really, just really, tremendously unnecessary.

New Year’s Eve very nearly gets a pass by way of something a touch like cinematic alchemy. By casting a giant cast of glittery stars, and by sticking them together (seemingly at random) into different plots, occasional magic does happen. Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers? They’ve got wonderful comedic chemistry. Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele? They’ve got palatable sexual chemistry. And, most surprising of all, Zac Efron and Michelle Pfeiffer are just lovely together. Their storyline is perhaps the most absurd and tough to believe, but it’s easily the most enjoyable one to watch. Of course, just about every other pairing in the film is utterly ludicrous. Jon Bon Jovi and Katherine Heigl? Are you high? Josh Duhamel and (I won’t spoil who here)? Improbable and just bizarre. Sarah Jessica Parker and the very talented Abigail Breslin, made up within an inch of her life, as her daughter? Hard to buy. Zac Efron and Sarah Jessica Parker as siblings? You heard me. Robert De Niro providing some kind of grounding drama? It’s like he’s in another movie. Also, Hilary Swank gets the most screen time, and her entire storyline revolves around getting the Times Square ball to drop at midnight – well, that’s what her entire storyline revolves around until it just doesn’t, and Marshall and Fugate veer off into totally new, totally unforeseen territory (hint: Swank’s character Claire is not stressed, she’s sad, let’s all find out why!). Also, at one point, Michele will sing a John Hiatt song in a broken down elevator to a pajama-clad loser in a overly-theatrical move that will likely make half the audience turn to their companions and mutter, “what? It’s a musical now?” It’s not, but I expect the inevitable sequel (Flag Day? Arbor Day? Grandparents’ Day?) will be.

And, as if that bloated litany of stars and their respective storylines isn’t enough, a number of other performers randomly show up throughout the film – Cary Elwes, Common, James Belushi, Alyssa Milano probably spent more time cashing their paychecks than actually working on the production. Oh, and for some reason Cris “Ludacris” Bridges is lurking around as an NYPD cop who is, what, best pals with Hilary Swank? Pardon me, but huh? And, rest assured, fans of Hector Elizondo won’t be (read: will definitely be) disappointed by his mid-film appearance as the one man in New York City who knows how to fix a broken light bulb.

Having so many storylines and characters should be, by all means, exhausting, but Marshall and Fugate dumb it down so hard that even the New Year baby could put together the pieces. Whereas Valentine’s Day didn’t try to connect any of the characters in satisfying ways (I clearly remember two “loose end” storylines that finally got anchored to the rest of the film because Marshall so cleverly inserted a scene involving two characters from the respective plots driving by each other; if this is movie craft, count me out) and a film like Love, Actually pulls off such a trick divinely well, New Year’s Eve falls somewhere in the middle. Everyone is connected to at least someone, all of the plots link up somehow, and it’s all just okay and very unoriginal. Some plots will fall off for an hour or so, but they’ll eventually pop back up (hey, Sarah Jessica Parker! You went missing for like an hour! Weird!), and everything gets tied up in a big, shiny, silly bow. None of this is worth celebrating, but it’s certainly better than being in Times Square at midnight with a bunch of cold, drunk, sweaty strangers.

The Upside: A few of Marshall and Fugate’s varied storylines are somewhat fun to watch, and every now and then the mixed bag of cast members and plots lands somewhere on the side of punchy. My pull quote for New Year’s Eve? “Oddly watchable!”

The Downside: This is not a film so much as a lesson in how to squander talent and phone it (read: almost everything) in.

On the Side: A slew of outtakes shown over the credits are likely the best part of the film – due to one thing: Zac Efron dancing.

Grade: C-


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