Not worth staying up for
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
"New Year's Eve" exists as a particularly soulless example of a movie that's less made than machined, assembled according to an algorithmic formula known only to the widget-twisters and bottom-line-feeders at Warner Brothers whose sole purpose in life is to separate trusting filmgoers from their money without providing commensurate value.
Promising an easily masticated story, shiny surface polish and more stars than the last Jerry Lewis telethon, "New Year's Eve" wouldn't have to be great art to succeed. It would merely need to glitter, gleam, grab a few heartstrings and gratify perhaps the most primal sensory demand of film audiences, which is to watch genetically gifted men and women behave in ways that seem both super-human and relatable, simultaneously.
"New Year's Eve" fails to clear even that modest bar, which will come as no surprise to anyone who suffered from its conceptual forebear, "Valentine's Day." Another cobbled-together mash-up of actorly duets, this leaden effort from screenwriter Katherine Fugate and director Garry Marshall sags when it should shimmer, labors clunkily when it should glide and - most unforgivably - plops some otherwise attractive and even talented actors into roles that are completely outside their physical and psychic comfort zone.
So we're subjected to the ignominious tableau of Robert De Niro - Robert De Freaking Niro - lying helplessly in a hospital bed while a nurse played by Halle Berry strokes his hand, presumably out of mutual concern for their once Oscar-winning careers.
Hilary Swank - all teeth and hair - brays unconvincingly through a performance as a young woman in charge of the ball-drop in Times Square, sharing inscrutable confidences with a Manhattan cop played by the rapper Ludacris, whose line readings suggest he was given horse tranquilizers before every take.
Michelle Pfeiffer, in a drab wig and red-rimmed eye makeup, pouts on a motorcycle behind Zac Efron, whose phenomenal physical charms Marshall keeps hidden until the blooper reel in the final credits.
Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michele, Sofia Vergara and Seth Meyers are here, too, as well as "Valentine's Day" vets Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher, the latter of whom spends the entire movie in his pajamas, an apt sartorial metaphor for a production mired in lazy writing, lackadaisical pacing and a sense of entitlement that conjures visions of torches, pitchforks and an Occupy Hollywood tent city in Burbank.
Most insulting of all, the filmmakers insist on inserting bits of moralizing in the movie like so many razor blades in a candy apple, so that midnight in "New Year's Eve" can't just be about romance and giddy anticipation, it has to be about "forgiveness," "second chances" - oh, and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," another fine Warner Bros. product opening soon in a theater near you and prominently cross-promoted in the movie's Times Square sequences.
Clocking in at an unforgivable two hours, "New Year's Eve" perpetrates the same forced jollity, oversize proportions and crass superficiality as the very holiday it so wanly exploits. It's a movie pretending to party but secretly pining for its own pillow (just after the paycheck). Behind all the noisemakers and funny glasses, "New Year's Eve" - and everyone in it - is dead behind the eyes.
Contains profanity, including some sexual references.