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New Year's Eve

Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Til Schweiger, Hilary Swank, Sofia Vergara

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 9 Dec 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 8 Dec 2011 (General release); 2011)

I'm Ready to Commit

Oh, It’s on!
—Tess (Jessica Biel)


In a universe unknown to the rest of us, Sofia Vergara is actually an accomplished sous chef. In this one, she’s playing a sous chef. Or rather, she’s playing a sous chef in yet another sort of unknown universe, the one concocted by New Year’s Eve, Garry Marshall’s newest holiday-titled movie. As Ava, Vergara delivers another version of Modern Family‘s Gloria, all mobile hips and sensational cleavage, at once pushy and obsequious, brash and adorable.


As disturbingly mesmerizing as she may be, Ava’s role is small in New Year’s Eve, as is everyone’s pretty much by definition in such big-cast-splashy-location-bad-script concoctions. (The formula is as painful in execution as in concept: as The Hollywood Reporter terms it, the film led the “Worst Weekend Since 2008.”) In the olden days, such films were assembled according to studio contracts (MGM’s Grand Hotel, now an actual pricey place), but now, with studios mere arms of corporations that have to do with food and oil, and stars feeling like free agents, such assembly is more arbitrary, which may or may not affect the movies’ own seeming arbitrariness (really, does it matter?).


It appears that trendy TV players looking to make the jump to movies are popular (say, Vergara or Lea Michele), as well as those changing other sorts of categories: Abigail Breslin plays Sarah Jessica Parker’s teenaged daughter, here engaged in her first on-screen kiss with a boy. There are the old folks who might want a paycheck: Robert De Niro is a former Vietnam war reporter, now dying of cancer and lamenting the horrors he witnessed and the time he spent away from his daughter (It’s hard not to think of him as other traumatized war survivors, in Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter and do some lamenting of your own).


Other actors are getting face time (Common is a soldier in Iraq or maybe Afghanistan, appearing on a screen within the screen, his camo uniform crisp and his background vague and cheap) and still others have no clear reason to be here at all (Cary Elwes as De Niro’s doctor, shaking his head as he indicates the precious few hours his patient has left on earth). You likely won’t be bothered to ponder the appearance of Seth Myers as mostly patient husband to a very pregnant Jessica Biel or, especially, Ashton Kutcher as yet another iteration of Ashton Kutcher. He can pitch cameras in 30-second bits just fine: any longer time he spends on screen now seems eternal. (As Lea Michele must spend the movie trapped in an elevator with him, you might end up reflecting on just how painfully oppressive that space would be in the alternative universe where it would be real and not a set with other people and bathroom breaks and craft services.)


The pile-up of talent is tedious, to be sure, mainly because it’s not about performances so much as one-liners and makeup. The throughline plot has to do with Times Square, as several characters try to get there or manage it. The ball drop is attached to a show, of course, to be performed at least in part by a pop star named Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi, who looks exhausted and you feel for him), whose pre-open-air bit takes place at a fancy-dress party catered by his ex and Ava’s boss, Laura (Katherine Heigel), currently mad enough to slap him—twice—because he left her a year ago, unable to commit. But what good is New Year’s Eve, the concept, if it’s not about starting over and “being good to each other,” as speechified by Claire (Hilary Swank), the person in charge of the ball drop.


She, in fact, does manage this, despite some trumped up mechanical glitch. But only because the film then hauls in Hector Elizondo, a longtime Garry Marshall movie regular (like, he’s been in all of them) to play Kominsky, an expert on the ball who’s recently been terminated because of The Economy but here Saves the Day (or Night) and so proves to all of us how important it is to appreciate the little people. Never mind that Elizondo has to do this by way of the most egregiously unfunny and wholly expected stunts ever conjured for a lazy big screen comedy, as he is literally caught atop the ball as it begins to rise up. The film doesn’t even bother to resolve this non-gag, as if giving up on its own set-up: Kominsky complains loudly, the scene cuts to his entrance into a room inside, to great cheers and smiles all around.


The crisis averted, Kominsky nods and absorbs the love. The film could be over! But no. It goes on, as you deliberate on how much time you’ve lost watching it.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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