How can a film titled "New Year's Eve" be so unfathomably dated? The movie plays like a time warp to 1951. The opening shot of the movie is a horse and buggy. Jon Bon Jovi plays pop music's hottest superstar. You half expect the actors to pass a kissing booth or an organ grinder with a leashed monkey.
Like director Garry Marshall's depressingly mirthless "Valentine's Day," the new film is one of those "more celebrities than you'd see in rehab" ensembles, following a dozen characters over the holiday. The script (a cluster of Post-its, actually, by "VD" writer Katherine Fugate) is to comedy what a salt flat is to landscape. Artificial, obvious and insulting to thinking audiences, it combines a tourist's view of New York City with rom-com platitudes and forced sentiment. The story is a monument to contrivance unworthy of star Sarah Jessica Parker. And that's saying something.
With so many players competing for a few minutes of screen time, there's no opportunity to flesh out any of the characters. The far-from-all-star cast is a see-who's-available hodgepodge (Lea Michele, meet Robert De Niro) that adds up to less than the sum of its parts. If you've been dying to see Ludacris play a cop, Katherine Heigl as a caterer, or Ryan Seacrest playing Ryan Seacrest, your prayers have been answered. Their long-sought breakout roles have arrived.
Even capable actors suffer here. Michelle Pfeiffer is cast awkwardly against type as a mousy woman ticking off a list of adventurous resolutions, and De Niro wallows in bathos as a terminally ill man hoping to see the Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop one final time. Some story lines intersect in a shallow way; most just toss the ball from player to player until the clock runs down. A few characters connect with one another, but none of them connect with the audience.
Since I am personally old, it is OK for me to say this. Marshall, pushing 80, has no business making films about contemporary life. He has no clue what it is like. The movie is set in a delusional, neverland New York City where practically everyone is well-off and white (excepting a few exotic stereotypes with zany accents). All anyone needs to make life complete is the right man/woman to kiss at midnight, and the biggest urban problem is the possible malfunctioning of the lighted New Year's ball.
It would be an act of dignity for Marshall to get out of the movie game and enjoy his golden years at the shuffleboard league or playing "got'cher nose" with infants. When your comedic skills are so drained that your movie's end-credits blooper reel is padded with clumsy, staged shtick, it's time to move on.