"New Year's Eve" is the second in a remarkably shallow series of holiday-themed, celebrity-stuffed confections from director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate, following their 2010 "Valentine's Day" collaboration. Of course, the really good stuff will come once they get to "Columbus Day," or maybe, just maybe, "Ash Wednesday."
Many of the elements are the same as they were for "Valentine's Day," just moved back on the calendar a few weeks, with the script again weaving together a dozen or so plot lines that crisscross a holiday prone to sentimentalizing.
If there is some kind of world record for schmaltz, this may have set it. Included here are first kisses, midnight rendezvous, dying fathers, newborn babies, husbands at war and trapped strangers. It's narcotic mawkishness, with notes played on heartstrings like a 12-string guitar.
Though it's pure, rosy fantasy on screen, this is cynical, paint-by-the-numbers entertainment, sold with a gaggle of stars spread across its movie poster like a telethon lineup.
The threads of romance emanate from — where else? — New York's Times Square. Hilary Swank plays a character running the ball drop festivities, at which a famous rocker (Jon Bon Jovi as "Jensen") is to perform, and where various police keep watch, including one played by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.
Some of the footage from these scenes came from last year's New Year's in Times Square shot by cinematographer Charles Minsky. This, surely, is the film's biggest accomplishment: The atmosphere is very true to the Times Square celebration.
Katherine Heigl plays a chef catering a pre-party featuring Jensen, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Her sous chef is Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family."
Abigail Breslin, now a teenager, is hoping to join her friends in Times Square, but her mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) won't let her. Jessica Biel, with husband Seth Meyers, is going into labor, competing for the new year's first baby against a rival couple (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger).
Michelle Pfeiffer plays a meek office assistant who quits her job (John Lithgow plays her record-label executive boss, a good bit of casting that should have spawned laughs) and hires a courier (an ultra-confident Zac Efron) to help her accomplish a list of resolutions.
Ashton Kutcher, as a bearded grouch, gets stuck in an elevator for hours with backup singer Lea Michele. (I crossed my fingers that bathroom needs would spoil their budding romance, but alas.) Most incredulous, perhaps, is the pairing of nurse Halle Berry and dying Vietnam veteran Robert De Niro.
En route to love and new beginnings, the many characters run around familiar New York tourist attractions and pair off predictably.
Editor Michael Tronick deserves credit for stitching all of these corny story lines together smoothly. None of the characters are more than cardboard cliches, but the cast is likable and pretty enough (there are some rom-com pros here, including Heigl and Josh Duhamel) that most are able to swallow the pallid dialogue without causing inadvertent laughs.
The cameos keep coming until the end, with even Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropping by. After all, this is as much an ad for New York as it is a movie. And I'm pretty sure I spotted Knick Amare Stoudemire as the credits rolled. Obviously, the NBA lockout was very hard on players.
And it's during these lighthearted extras and outtakes at the end of "New Year's Eve" where the first and only honest moment of the film occurs. Carla Gugino, who plays the OB/GYN delivering the expected babies, hints at the crassness of the enterprise. In a gag, she emerges from between Biel's legs with not a child, but "Valentine's Day" DVDs.
Congratulations. It's dreck.
"New Year's Eve," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for language, including some sexual references. Running time: 117 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.