December 7, 2011



NEW YEAR’S EVENot At Any Price – Calling it a “Sit-Com” Insults TV


NEW YEAR’S EVE is such a calculated piece of commercial manufacture that it deserves a Powerpoint presentation more than a review.  Although strictly speaking it isn’t a sequel to Valentine’s Day (and in fact a few of the same actors turn up in this one playing different roles), everything has been done to duplicate the style and execution of that $216M worldwide grosser, including hiring the same screenwriter (Katherine Fugate) and director (Garry Marshall).  But the joke’s on them, because this one is even worse than Valentine’s was.

The setting this time is NY rather than LA, but the format is the same:  intercut between a dozen mostly  romantic comedy storylines featuring recognizable actors, all taking place on the same holiday night.  (It’s quite cost-efficient because since the episodes are mostly self-contained, the actors are each only needed for a week or so, making them available at a bargain price.)  That date, of course, is December 31, and the focal point of the various stories is Times Square, the dropping of the ball, and the splashy party that’s supposed to be taking place afterward.

To the extent there’s any one central character, it’s probably the woman trying to make sure the ball-drop goes smoothly (Hilary Swank, uncomfortable as usual in a standard Hollywood role).  The other stories radiate outward from that.  We get the rock star singing as part of the Times Square festivities (Jon Bon Jovi) and his ex who happens to be catering the party (Katherine Heigl); the back-up singer (Lea Michele) caught in an elevator–let me repeat that, caught in an elevator, because that plot hasn’t been used since 1964–with a neighbor who hates New Year’s (Ashton Kutcher); the teen (Abigail Breslin) who’s desperate to get to Times Square for the sake of a boy and her mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) who’s trying to find her; the guy who works for the company throwing the party (Josh Duhamel) and has to be at a certain corner after midnight to meet the mystery potential love of his life; the drone office worker with tickets to the party (Michelle Pfeiffer) who offers them to a delivery boy (Zac Efron) if he’ll fulfill her fantasies–and no, not those kinds of fantasies; and so on.  In a nearby hospital we also get a dying old guy who wants to see one last New Year’s (Robert DeNiro) with the help of his nurse (Halle Berry) because he seemingly (accent on “seemingly”) doesn’t have any family, along with a truly cringe-inducing race between Jessica Biel and Sarah Paulson to be the first to give birth in the new year and win a cash prize–this one should have had a separate soundtrack, although screams of horror might have been more appropriate than a laugh track.  There are a few supposed mysteries about how the stories will connect, all easily guessable, moronic or both, and since this is a Garry Marshall movie, Hector Elizondo shows up.  And Ryan Seacrest.

Marshall has never been a subtle craftsmen, but his best romances have some grace and charm.  New Year’s Eve, though, is a slack assembly of flat scenes, given the illusion of pace by the fact that double-digit plotlines are jumbled into 2 hours.  Worse even than the holes where laughs should have been is the shameless sentimentality that’s wielded throughout with utter cynicism.  Even though he’s considered an “actors’ director,” Marshall doesn’t do any of the stars favors:  the cinematography by Charles Minsky is so ugly that many of the performers look awful, and there’s no chemistry between any of the couples (particularly Heigl and Bon Jovi, whose scenes together are like a traffic accident).  It’s embarrassing to see Sofia Vergara, consistently hilarious on Modern Family, reduced to playing a sidekick with a funny accent, and simply painful to watch Robert DeNiro, once one of the great actors of his day, collecting yet another bored paycheck.  Also, someone should have told Heigl that the last thing her career needed was a role where she constantly screams and complains stridently.  The survivors include Breslin, who is able to appear half-way human, and Pfeiffer and Efron, who have a ludicrous storyline but manage to skate above it.

Complaining about a movie like New Year’s Eve is like complaining that the sun will go down in the evening:  with its cast, and the fact that it owns the romantic comedy genre for the next few weeks (Young Adult is only barely a comedy and definitely not a romance), it’s going to make money.  Which means in a year or two, it may well be our duty to sit through “Fourth of July” or “First Night of Passover.”  Sadly, the calendar will run out of holidays before Warners runs out of ways to exploit them.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."