Same Old Gang’s Lines

Garry Marshall has made some decent films in the past, such as Beaches, The Princess Diaries, The Runaway Bride, and Pretty Girl.  He’s also made some stinkers like Exit to Eden, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, and Valentine’s Day.  I’d stayed away from his movies since seeing The Princess Diaries in 2001.  This past Saturday, though, I decided to give him another chance and saw his latest film.

My mistake.

New Year’s Eve is a cotton candy movie – fluffy, sugary, unhealthy, and you’re likely to wind up with a stomach ache from consuming it.  Like Valentine’s Day, the movie is filled with recognizable actors in interrelated vignettes.  They also live in a hermetically-sealed world where there are few worries and almost everyone is pleasant – unless you’re traveling in Connecticut.

Here’s the rundown:

Tess and Griffin Byrne (Jessica Biel & Seth Meyers) are racing another couple (Sarah Paulson & Til Schweiger) to have the first baby of the New Year and claim a cash prize offered by the hospital.  It might have been fun if they’d taken a black humor spin on the story, but for no apparent reason niceness wins out.

Chef Laura (Katherine Heigl) is catering a major party that night.  She’s also dealing with her former boyfriend Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), a major singing star who’s performing both in Times Square as well as at the party.  Russell Peters plays one of Laura’s helpers, using the Indian accent that he regularly lampoons in his comedy routine.  There’s also Sofia Vergara as a sous chef who seems to be channeling the spirit of Charo from 40 years ago, right down to the shimmying and pneumatic breasts.

Randy (Ashton Kutcher) is a curmudgeon who hates New Year’s.  He gets stuck in an elevator with Elise (Lea Michele), one of Jensen’s backup singers.  Kutcher perhaps should have requested they change the name of his character, considering what happened with his marriage to Demi Moore.  He’s more exciting to watch in the Canon advertisements than here.

Hailey (Abigail Breslin) is a 15-year-old who wants to kiss her boyfriend in Times Square at midnight, but her mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) has forbidden her to leave the apartment.  Want to guess what happens?  Seriously – you have to guess?

Sam (Josh Duhamel) is trying to get from his brother’s wedding earlier in the day in Connecticut back to the city to keep an appointment made the previous New Year’s Eve.  Apparently the screenwriter thinks people from Connecticut are Okies with better accents.  You have Larry Miller, a regular fixture in Garry Marshall films, playing a bit more cultured version of Mater, the Tow Truck in Cars.

Claire Morgan (Hillary Swank) is in charge of the ball drop at midnight.  While they’re raising it into position, the ball shorts out and is stuck halfway up the pole.  The rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays Claire’s friend, a NYPD officer, and Hector Elizondo – another Marshall fixture – plays the master electrician called in to fix the ball.  Matthew Broderick has a cameo as Claire’s boss who’s having a minor meltdown about the glitch.  Unfortunately, this story has the most conflict in the whole movie.

There are two story lines that aren’t bad.  Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) is an unappreciated secretary who tells her boss (John Lithgow) that she’s quitting.  She then hires bicycle messenger Paul (Zac Efron) to help her fulfill her New Year’s Eve resolutions before midnight.  Pfeiffer looks wonderful, and she’s given some emotions to work with, though Zac Efron is a bland stereotype.

Finally there’s Stan Harris (Robert DeNiro), a cancer patient whose doctor (Cary Elwes) expects he won’t last the night.  Stan wants to see the ball drop over Times Square one last time.  Lying in the hospital bed, he tells his nurse (Halle Berry) of his regrets in life.  It’s a bit maudlin, but DeNiro pulls it off.  And there is a nice moment when Berry “meets” her New Year’s Eve date.

Two decent storylines isn’t enough to save this movie.  Valentine’s Day was panned by the reviewers earlier this year, and the studio must have green-lighted this flick before they saw the earlier movie.  Marshall’s direction is tired, pedestrian.  Katherine Fugate’s screenplay managed a couple of surprising moments, but overall it’s so sweet they should give out insulin injections as you leave the theater.  It’s truly sad when the funniest part of the movie is the final credits, which incorporate outtakes.

New Year’s Eve currently has a 7 rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, out of 100.  They were generous.

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