Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crowded Party: NEW YEAR'S EVE

New Year’s Eve is a cinematic Wal-Mart, crowded, cavernous, filled with cheap versions of exactly the products you’d expect, and no one seems particularly happy to be there. Like Valentine’s Day, also inflicted, albeit with less pain, by director Garry Marshall, the new film is a massive ensemble romantic comedy built around a holiday, a slickly produced product, nothing more than an excuse to see dozens of celebrities, or at least recognizable faces, playing just about everyone on screen but the extras. It used to be that when this many name actors showed up in one place the boat was capsizing or the skyscraper’s ribbon-cutting party was going up in flames. Now, all that happens is precisely what you’d expect in the form of predictable, plodding sitcom pandering and plots thin to the point of breaking. The only disaster is how exhaustingly cliché and dispiritingly unimaginative it is.

There are 31 recognizable faces (at least when I counted them just now on the cast list from IMDb) in New Year’s Eve, which zips around New York on December 31, 2011 as people fall in love (never out, this is one aggressively happy movie) and find their soul mates. It seems pointless to try and point out individual characters and motivations as the film is so cluttered and static that by the time we’ve met everyone and learned their main conflict, there’s barely time to resolve them before the ball drops and Times Square explodes in confetti. Besides, the characters barely registered in my head as anything but the person playing them. It’s like a bad school play in which you can only think about little Bobby when you’re meant to see the man supposedly on his deathbed.

Of course in this case little Bobby’s last name is DeNiro. His nurse is Halle Berry and his doctor is Cary Elwes. Then there’s Hilary Swank directing the Times Square festivities, fretting about the ball drop with security guard Ludacris. When, much to the dismay of Ryan Seacrest (as himself), there’s a technical glitch, Hector Elizondo shows up to fix it. There’s also Sarah Jessica Parker who says daughter Abigail Breslin can’t go downtown with Jake T. Austin. Stuck in an elevator in their apartment building are Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele. Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers are about to have a baby and are competing with Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger to have the first baby of the New Year. OB/GYN Carla Gugino is not amused. Mousy secretary Michelle Pfeiffer convinces bike messenger Zac Efron to help her finish her list of resolutions before midnight. Executive Josh Duhamel catches a ride into the city with Yeardley Smith and family. And Katherine Heigl and Sofia Vergara are catering Cherry Jones’s fancy party at which Jon Bon Jovi (not playing himself) will perform.

As you can see, it’s a little ridiculous. It got to the point that, when Ludacris tells Hilary Swank that “Mr. so-and-so is here,” I was only pondering which famous face would step out of the back of that limo. (Matthew Broderick). Rather than bringing all we know about the personas to their roles to serve as some kind of insta-character, the overloaded cast only points out the thinness of it all. Not a one of these plotlines could stand by itself. Worse, the way Katherine Fugate’s script stumbles from one scene to the next refuses to allow the characters to thematically interact. This is a movie that has nothing to say and little idea of how to even make that fact entertaining. We’re supposed to be delighted when, say Efron answers the phone “hey, sis,” and we learn which big name has been – gasp! – his sister this whole time! If the film were packed with too many Meet Cutes and sweeping smooches, it would still reach a point of diminishing returns well before the film’s credit cookies but at least it wouldn’t be quite so empty. For all of these actors present, so many dumb threads of plot, there’s just not enough to sustain two hours. Why couldn’t someone find something interesting for someone, anyone, in the cast to do? New Year’s Eve is a celebration of the superficial without the energy or the trashy pleasure such celebrations could provide.

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