Who wouldn’t want to live inside a Garry Marshall movie like last year’s enjoyably execrable Valentine’s Day and its equally wonderful/terrible new companion piece/rehash, New Year’s Eve? In Marshall’s benevolent realm, everyone is assured a happy ending: even the guy on his deathbed with less than a day to live (Robert De Niro) is destined to be smiling when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. There’s something weirdly endearing about Marshall’s shamelessness. Other filmmakers might have too much respect for Michelle Pfeiffer (as a timid wallflower speeding her way through a bucket list) to ask her to deliver a line like “I’m pathetic, dude” to rocking teen heartthrob Zac Efron. Not Marshall. It’s safe to say to no idea was nixed on the set of New Year’s Eve for being too cheesy or sentimental; if anything, ideas were nixed for not being sentimental or cheesy enough.
Multiple Academy Award winner Hilary Swank leads a large, randomly assembled cast as the neurotic, wacky, but ultimately loveable woman in charge of making sure the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi tries to win back ex-fiancée Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel pines for a mystery woman, and dozens of other glibly drawn characters cycle their way toward their happily ever afters.
Appearing in a movie like New Year’s Eve is ultimately more like a talk-show appearance than a conventional acting role. The cast just has to show up, smile, say some lines, exchange pleasantries to other beautiful famous people standing around, then enjoy some delicious craft services. No acting is required. Maybe that’s why bit players Ryan Seacrest and New York City Mayor Bloomberg seem more at home here than De Niro; Seacrest is used to simply performing for cameras, whereas De Niro is still intermittently called upon to act. (Not here, though.) As part of its overwhelming commitment to schmaltz, New Year’s Eve contains wonderfully empty rhetoric about the importance of chasing dreams, following your heart, and taking chances. Too bad the film is woefully inconsistent about taking its own advice: It has plenty of plastic heart, but it’d be hard to imagine a film that took fewer chances, or more dogged pride in playing it safe.