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New Year's Eve
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Garry Marshall Drops The Ball"
1 stars

On occasion, while killing a few minutes between screenings, my colleagues and I sometimes like to toss out ideas for a mythical film festival--though one that we would be willing to stage in a heartbeat if given a chance--that would be commonly known as "ShitFest." Although the details of this particular cinematic construct are filled with nuances and subtleties, the basic concept is that each participant would screen a film that they, and virtually they alone, gave a good review to and then justify their willingness to go against the critical grain. No, none of this ironic-hipster crap where an inescapably bad movie, something along the lines of "The Room" or any selection from the Uwe Boll filmography, is celebrated solely for its inherent and overt lousiness. Also, no movies like "Ishtar" that were written off as disasters in their time but which have gone on to receive a warmer evaluation in subsequent years. For example, although I could name a number of movies that I have liked over the years that could conceivably fall under this description, it has been generally decided that my selection would almost have to be "Valentine's Day," the 2010 hit that found amiable hack filmmaker Garry Marshall shepherding an enormous cast consisting of hot stars, canny veterans and members of the extended Marshall family in a multi-narrative saga that felt like an entire season of the old "Love, American Style" sitcom jam-packed into two solid hours. While I agree that the film as a whole was equal parts dumb, silly and sentimental, it was a nice kind of dumb, silly and sentimental and I thought that Marshall did an effective job of juggling all of his narrative balls while allowing the audience to have as much fun watching it as he and the actors presumably had in making it. As it turned out, mine was somewhat of a minority opinion and even though I have continued to be mocked over it ever since, it is a view that I continue to stick by to this day.

Because of this, I suspect that I went into the screening of Marshall's latest effort, "New Year's Eve," with a little more optimism than most of my fellow critics. After all, the film has him reuniting with "Valentine's Day" screenwriter Katherine Fugate to come with another multi-narrative holiday-themed project featuring another star-studded cast with the only differences being a different holiday, a different scenic locale and, with the exception of a couple of returnees from the earlier film (though not in the same roles), a brand-new cast so jam-packed with famous faces that it makes the old Irwin Allen disaster movies look like chamber pieces in terms of star power. Having already pulled off such a thing the first time around, it would stand to reason that a repeat of the formula would yield more or less the same results, right? Well, something appears to have gone horribly wrong in the preparation of this particular cinematic recipe and the end result is so lousy, so tone-deaf and so obnoxious that I not only want to give it as few stars as I possibly can, I almost want to go back and retroactively take back one or two of the stars I gave "Valentine's Day" out of sheer embarrassment that I could have ever like something that could have gone on to inspire something as misbegotten as this. Let me put it this way--this is a film that is not even good enough to earn a spot at ShitFest.

Switching coasts from Los Angeles to New York, the film follows the myriad adventures of a large group of familiar faces going through their equally familiar paces over the course of what feels like an endless December 31. Hilary Swank plays the official in charge of the ball drop in Times Square and is dealt a major setback when it breaks down a few hours before midnight. Michelle Pfeiffer is a frumpy secretary who quits her job and enlists brash bike messenger Zac Efron to help her complete her list of current resolutions before time runs out--somewhat of a tall order when the list includes such tasks as "Go to Bali" and "Be Amazed" (though you would think that she could have handled having breakfast at Tiffany's on her own). Katherine Heigl is an up-and-coming caterer who gets her big break handling a lavish party only to discover that her ex, world-famous rock star Jon Bon Jovi (whose character, like any number of other world-famous rock stars, is known only as "Jensen"), is one of the guests of honor.
Ashton Kutcher is a lovelorn cartoonist who gets trapped in an elevator with starry-eyed back-up singer Lea Michelle. Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel are an expectant couple who find themselves competing with another couple, played by Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson, to see who will deliver the first baby of the new year and win a $25,000 prize. Sarah Jessica Parker is a lonely divorcee who has to go into the city to chase down teenage daughter Abigail Breslin, who has slipped off to Times Square to get an all-important smooch from her would-be boyfriend. Josh Duhamel is a dope trying to get into the city to show up for a date that he made the previous New Year's who is forced to drive in with a wacky family in a Winnebago. Robert De Niro plays a lonely dying man whose final wish is to go up on the roof of the hospital in order to properly see the fireworks and Halle Berry plays the dedicated nurse who tries to make it happen for him. In addition, Sofia Vergara turns up as a large-breasted ethnic joke, Hector Elizondo fulfills his role of being to Garry Marshall what Dick Miller is to Joe Dante and there enough surprise cameos on display to fill out an entirely different movie and trust me, there are times when you will wish that they had.

So considering that "New Year's Day" is basically interchangeable with "Valentine's Day," why did I enjoy the one to whatever degree that I did and spend my time watching the other praying for a projector malfunction or Transformer attack? As it turns out, it is all in the executions. "Valentine's Day" was mindless fluff from start to finish but it worked because the actors were likable to overcome the sitcom-style silliness of the screenplay and Marshall did a fairly good job of keeping things moving along with the effortless precision of a genial party host who is constantly circling the room to make sure that none of his guests come away feeling slighted. This time around, however, the mood has soured considerably and virtually every character on display is either unlikable, uninteresting or both and the situations that they find themselves enmeshed in are so trite and cliched that you keep hoping in vain that Marshall and Fugate will recognize this and put some kind of spin on the material to mix it up a little bit. (In this regard, matters aren't helped much by the script's insistence on linking the characters to one another in ways that grow increasingly forced and overly precious as things go on and on and on.) Another problem is the film's insistence on trying to insert poignancy into the proceeding in order to capture the sometimes bittersweet nature of the holiday. In theory, getting people misty-eyed on New Year's Eve is like shooting fish in a barrel--I once saw a New Year's Eve concert by the late, great cynic Warren Zevon and even he pulled off that trick at midnight by offering up utterly sincere back-to-back renditions of "Auld Lang Syne" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (followed, of course, by an extended take on the immortal "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," but never mind)--but Marshall and Fugate are trying so goddammed hard to make audiences feel all warm and fuzzy in the end that most viewers will wind up feeling nothing other than a steadily building sense of resentment towards their ham-handed efforts. Of all the storylines, the only one that comes even vaguely close to being touching and funny is the one involving Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron but the film is in such a rush to get to everyone else that their surprisingly effective screen chemistry winds up getting interrupted just when things threaten to get interesting.

With the exception of a couple of remarks from Marshall regular Larry Miller and an offhand Newark joke that is inserted into the proceedings for no reason, none of the allegedly comedic bits are funny in the slightest--the stuff involving the pregnant couple trying to give birth first are especially loathsome with "jokes" ranging from Biel trying to induce labor by doing yoga and eating anchovies to a wacky nurse who offers the unlikely pronouncement of "May the best va-jay-jay win!" and there is also a Socrates joke that only serves as a reminder of the infinitely funnier Socrates joke in the cult classic "Real Genius." However, that is not to say that "New Year's Eve" is not filled with laugh-out-loud moments but as it turns out, they are virtually all of the inadvertent variety. There is the fact may be the most times in a non-pornographic film that you will ever hear the phrase "ball drop" mentioned. There is the display of Katherine Heigl's innovative catering techniques, which appear to consist entirely of chopping chunks of pineapple and throwing chocolate truffles onto the heads of the party guests. There is one cut from some form of silliness to De Niro lying on his deathbed that is so poorly deployed that it feels as if De Niro pissed off a member of the editing team and they decided to get back at him. There is the speech that Hilary Swank's character gives at one point that is meant to stall for time but appears, based on the reaction of everyone else in the film, to be roughly as profound and important as the one in "The King's Speech." There is the hilariously overwrought scene in which all the characters are linked in a moment of shared dramatic repose while Bon Jovi and Michelle sing John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me" in what can only be described as a tone-deaf emulation of one of the key moments of the infinitely superior "Magnolia."

It is easy to understand why so many actors--and beyond all of those already mentioned, there is yet another level of familiar faces consisting of people like Cary Elwes, Cherry Jones and Alyssa Milano without quite enough pull to get themselves on the poster, members of the extended Marshall family and brief cameos from the likes of Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow and Jim Belushi--would want to sign on for a project like this. With so many different plot threads to include, it probably required only a few days of shooting at most for each of them and if it turns out to be a hit along the lines of "Valentine's Day," that means that they get to be a part of a holiday perennial that could provide nice residual payments for years to come. Besides, many of them may have simply wanted to work with Garry Marshall, a man who is, based on the occasions that I have had to meet him over the years, arguably one of the nicest and friendliest people working in the business today. And yet, even though a film like "New Year's Eve" is about the closest that an actor can get to a working vacation these days now that "The Love Boat" is no longer with us, I suspect that many of the participants may have regretted their decision after seeing the quality of the material they were asked to work with. In the most cringe-inducing moment in a film filled with them, there is a putatively serious moment that is bad enough as is but becomes downright embarrassing when you realize that the on-screen talent charged with executing the material in question have five Oscars between them--a high percentage than any scene in "Carnage," mind you--and even they are unable to make anything out of it.

"New Year's Eve" is a lot like the holiday that it celebrates--it is loud, obnoxious, overstuffed with people trying too hard to have a good time and about halfway through, you'll find yourself wishing that you had just stayed home and watched some old Marx Brothers movies instead. How bad is it? It is so bad that on the grand scale of New Year's Eve-themed entertainment, it makes "200 Cigarettes" look like a movie. It is so bad that you will find yourself hoping that a giant tidal wave will come along and destroy everything in its path, either on the screen or in the theater itself. It is so bad that if Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov ever sees it, he will make a statement that begins "Had I known about this film at the time. . ." It is so bad that no less a figure than Ryan Seacrest, playing himself, gets to deliver the closest thing to a profound thought when, after some hiccup, he poignantly remarks that this never happened to Dick Clark. Sadly, truer words were never spoken.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20771&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/09/11 06:57:37
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User Comments

1/25/12 Devin Sabas sooooooo bad i want my 4 hours back, as that is how long it feels 1 stars
12/26/11 AARON LONGG "Sofia Vergara turns up as a large-breasted ethnic joke" - Nicely done. 1 stars
12/20/11 andy lots of big stars but the movie goes no where 1 stars
12/10/11 CatRenee I hated Valentines's Day and nothing looks good about this film. 1 stars
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  09-Dec-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-May-2012


  DVD: 01-May-2012

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