'New Year's Eve' drops the ball on good storytelling

Let's hope your New Year's Eve is better than the movie titled "New Year's Eve." This hectic ensemble comedy has so many interwoven story lines and exudes so much synthetic good cheer that it leaves you feeling exhausted long before midnight strikes.

Having put audiences through a similar exercise in "Valentine's Day" in 2010, director Garry Marshall now exploits another holiday. Both pictures boast such large all-star casts that you should be issued a score card upon entering the theater.


It's initially amusing to see so many familiar faces in and around Times Square, but eventually it's demoralizing to see major actors giving minor performances. Even the less-accomplished actors in the cast deserve better.

For those keeping score, the acting roster includes Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Biel, Hector Elizondo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jon Bon Jovi, Lea Michele, Abigail Breslin, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Matthew Broderick, Ludacris, Seth Meyers, Josh Duhamel, Sofia Vergara, Zac Efron and even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who performs no worse than anybody else.


Mechanically hopping from one plot strand to the next, the script by Katherine Fugate is so overloaded with superficial contrivances that the whole movie takes place in a kind of New York neverland. Her script thematically resorts to a lot of old devices to welcome the new year. What's presumably intended as humanistic affirmation instead just seems like hokum.

Likewise, director Marshall never misses an opportunity for cute close-ups and corresponding sentimental observations. He's juggling so many characters here that he admittedly deserves a bonus for being such an efficient traffic cop.

All of that relentless activity keeps you as busy as the characters, but what does it add up to? Not much. "New Year's Eve" is a collection of subplots in search of a plot.

Among those subplots, situations that should tug at your heart instead come off as manipulative. A prime example is a subplot involving De Niro as a man dying in a hospital overlooking Times Square, Berry as his devoted nurse and the man's determination to watch the ball drop at midnight.

Although both actors dutifully deliver their cliched lines, it isn't enough to transcend the stereotypical situation.

The numerous other subplots include Times Square event planner Swank anxiously trying to fix an electrical malfunction that may prevent the ball dropping on time; rock star Bon Jovi and former fiancee Heigl arguing over their fizzled romance; nervously controlling mother Parker keeping a close watch on spirited daughter Breslin's New Year's Eve plans; bike messenger Efron spreading good cheer in his effort to make record company employee Pfeiffer's wish list items come true; and comic-book illustrator Kutcher and singer Michele meeting cute on a stalled elevator.

There is much more, but you get the idea. Although most of these subplots could occur in real life, it's often difficult to believe the reel life on noisy display here. Very few genuine emotions survive the manufacturing process that produced this movie. You will be thankful when midnight eventually arrives. Grade: C

"New Year's Eve" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.