‘New Year’s Eve’ movie review: great cast squandered in rom-com ensemble

If nothing else, Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve must have been great fun for the product placement department: here’s a film set primarily in New York City’s Times Square that features, throughout its duration, hundreds of advertisements up on digital billboards in the background – and foreground – of many shots.

This must be a first: a film featuring prominent advertising for next week’s big cinema release; that would be Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which bows locally Jan. 5) – its Times Square billboard fills a third of the screen at one point. And, as if someone decided the proper advertising was too subtle, the crowd shots feature extras covered in ridiculous Nivea foam hats.

Alas, playing spot-the-brand is one of the few entertaining features in New Year’s Eve, which is the same in concept as Marshall’s last film, Valentine’s Day, and a notch or three poorer in execution. The sheer badness does provide some perverse fun; few major productions are so open to ridicule, but this one wears its stupidity on its sleeve. At least poor reception of this one may save us from, well, what’s left? Labor Day?

There are twenty-plus A-list actors here struggling through eight major storylines and a plethora of subplots. Doing the math, that’s ten-to-fifteen minutes devoted to each set of actors/plots. Some may say Marshall does a good job balancing the storylines; I say you’ll see the same A-story/B-story/C-story technique done better on TV every night. 

My advice: watch two hour-long dramas back-to-back instead; you’re likely to get more thoughtful and better crafted content, and, as an added bonus, the 36 minutes of commercial breaks is less advertising than you’re subjected to during New Year’s Eve’s two hours.

Plot strands: Hilary Swank plays the director in charge of getting the Times Square ball to drop, supported by a cop played by Ludacris (by the time they get to the “I won’t drop the ball” pun, you’ve already rolled your eyes in anticipation); Robert De Niro is a dying man who wants to see the ball drop one last time, attended to by doc Cary Elwes and nurse Halle Berry; Sarah Jessica Parker plays a doting mother who won’t let her daughter (Abigail Breslin) go out to Times Square with her friends unattended; and Josh Duhamel races to NYC in an attempt to re-ignite a chance encounter he had last NYE.

But wait – there’s more! Pop star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) tries to patch things up with his caterer ex (Katharine Heigl); a New Year’s bah-humbuger (Ashton Kutcher) gets stuck in an elevator with one of Jensen’s backup singers, played by Glee’s Lea Michele (who gives a rather unfortunate rendition of Auld Lang Syne at the film’s climax); a businesswoman (Michele Pfeiffer) quits her job and embarks on one of those bucket list things-to-do quests, which a courier (Zac Efron) helps her cheat at (go to Bali? Try this warehouse massage parlor!)

And in the most idiotic storyline, two sets of expectant parents (Jessica Biel & Seth Myers and Sarah Paulson & Til Schweiger) race to see who can induce labor at just the right time to get a cool $25,000, which is supposedly awarded to the first child born in the new year. It doesn’t matter who “wins”; the audience has already lost.

If those aren’t enough recognizable faces, there are also smaller roles filled by Carla Gugino, Cherry Jones, and Common; appearances by Marshall regulars Larry Miller and Hector Elizondo; and cameos from John Lithgow, Matthew Broderick, and James Belushi.

Out of the entire cast, the only ones to come out unscathed are Pfeiffer (despite the filmmakers’ unfortunate attempt to turn her into Diane Keaton) and De Niro, who has the best line in the film; of course, it’s among the closing credit outtakes. Coming off the worst here is poor Sarah Jessica Parker, who is so woefully miscast that her big climatic scene draws the worst kind of guffaws.

Rarely has so much talent been given so little to do. Most of this production – the direction, the editing, the screen composition – screams TV; if only the screenplay, by Katherine Fugate, had been broadcast-level quality, New Year’s Eve might have been a decent timewaster. As it is, the film makes for a fun object of ridicule, but little else.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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