Thursday 8 December 2011

Dropping the ball: "New Year's Eve"

Hollywood has grown so insecure about the shambling sorts who pass for stars these days that it's begun to subject these quasi-stars to particle chamber experiments: pouring as many of them as they physically can into a confined space (a two-hour feature, set on a single night, say) in the hope some of them will react or spark together and bring about the box-office fission that these performers perhaps wouldn't guarantee individually. This was the MO of 2010's Valentine's Day - a successful box-office experiment, if a lousy movie - and so now we have New Year's Eve, doing its damnedest to make the year's other worst day just a tad more unbearable for future generations, who are now presumably going to have to put up with crap like this being re-run on their televisions every twelve months.

Director Garry Marshall and leading man Ashton Kutcher return, though it's typical of the they'll-never-notice sloppiness at work here that it's never quite clear whether the latter is reprising his Valentine's Day role in a new East Coast location, or attempting an entirely new creation, befitting his stellar range. Just about everyone else on screen is an event organiser of some kind, played by all those romcom figureheads who missed their turn at the trough first time around. Hilary Swank is a stressed go-getter overseeing New York's Times Square celebrations; Katherine Heigl a concert organiser sent into a fluster by the reappearance on the scene of rockstar ex Jon Bon Jovi (!); and Sarah Jessica Parker is a fashion event organiser (natch) concerned by teenage daughter Abigail Breslin's plans to land her first kiss when the clock strikes midnight.

Among all the stress these storylines engender, there's still room for additional curveballs. The Manhattan setting occasions a few days' easy work and a nice fat paycheque for Bob De Niro as a dying photographer who's somehow being tended to by nurse Halle Berry, and it's with the introduction of this strand that we grasp that a film attempting to cover the gamut of human emotion and experience is in fact only shuffling along the gamut of Hollywood emotion and experience. For New Year's Eve to work emotionally, it would require us not to notice that this is Halle Berry as a nurse, or Jon Bon Jovi playing "one of the hottest names in the music industry", or Michelle Pfeiffer playing a dowdy secretary getting her resolutions ticked off for her by streetwise courier Zac Efron; to work commercially, however, it absolutely needs for us to spot these famous faces, in the trailer and then again on the poster as we wait in line. Guess which of these two goals Marshall aims for?

Stardom provides the laziest of shorthands here: no-one is even given the chance to create a character as such, because the script's been atomised into easy-to-produce, easily digested bits. Here are some of the bits New Year's Eve finds funny: the repeated use of such terms as "hoo-ha" and "va-jay-jay" for the vagina; a malfunctioning satnav; a fat man burping in Sarah Jessica Parker's lap. Here are some of the dramatic situations it insists are worth paying for: mutual antagonists (Kutcher and Glee's Lea Michele, recruited to shore up the teen market) getting stuck in the same lift together; two expectant couples racing to be the first to expel their child in the New Year, thus to win some prize or other; Katherine Heigl playing a workaholic keeping a devoted admirer at arm's length; and a millionaire (Josh Duhamel, shoring up the, er, Josh Duhamel demographic) being taught to follow his heart by a vanful of plain-speaking country folks driving him to Radio City music hall.

I actively detested the first movie's cynicism; as with Parker's big-screen Sex and the City spin-off (brought to you by the same studios), or a smallpox vaccination, that left me mostly indifferent to the cynicism any second dose might bring about. At least we're spared the sappy, love-is-everything soundtrack overkill of Valentine's Day - though one fears a morning-after sequel with Bono bellowing away every five minutes - and the face-in-every-role strategy, while sticking us with a regrettable Ryan Seacrest cameo, inevitably throws up a small handful of performers (Larry Miller, John Lithgow, Yeardley Smith, Jack McGee) capable of wringing snickers from the odd bones tossed to them, if - with this piecemeal script - not all that much more.

Still, it drags on something rotten, making room for all manner of stuff, nonsense and product-placement: whole strands of the film appear to be sponsored by a skincare manufacturer (one of Oil of Olay's rivals), an alcoholic beverage (not Jack Daniels), and the distributor's other tentpole holiday-season sequel (which isn't Mission: Impossible 4). End-credit outtakes show De Niro repeatedly cracking up with laughter, just so we know how much he meant his participation, and - I kid you not; I watched it with my own human eyes - DVD and Blu-Ray copies of Valentine's Day being disgorged from Jessica Biel's hoo-ha, to much merriment from cast and crew. Those DVD distributors who lost key catalogue titles in the Enfield warehouse fire earlier this year might like to contact the actress to inquire whether they, too, couldn't have a rummage round in there.

New Year's Eve is on nationwide release.


  1. This sounds like a truly hideous film I shall never ever see, unless guaranteed with sexual gratification afterwards. Nice review, though.

  2. Thank you, sir. I think they've probably got the only-there-for-sexual-gratification demographic factored in somehow...