MOVIE REVIEW: 'New Year's Eve'





1 star out of 4

Director Garry Marshall is to romantic comedies what Michael Bay is to action/adventures. Both men abhor subtly and prefer to tell their stories with a bludgeoning jackhammer approach even slow fifth graders can get.

After cutting his teeth writing for sitcoms in the '60s, Marshall wrote and produced three of his own in the '70s ("Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy") before graduating to feature films in the '80s. Since then he's made 17 movies with about four of them being watchable and all of them (with the exception of "Beaches") could easily double as overlong sitcom pilot episodes.

"New Year's Eve" finds Marshall and returning screenwriter Katherine Fugate rehashing the same exact formula they concocted for last year's "Valentine's Day." There are roughly three dozen performers engaging in a quasi "Nashville," "Crash" and "Love Actually" type of ensemble piece with multiple sub-plots that sometimes overlap.

Included here are three Oscar winners that are no longer in big demand (Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Hilary Swank), a pair of up-and-comers (Zac Efron, Abigail Breslin), a bunch of famous but not real talented TV vets (Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Lea Michele, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel), "SNL" news guy Seth Meyers, three singers (Common, Chris Bridges, Jon Bon Jovi), an "Inglourious Basterd," Marshall's stable of character actors, a woman who used to be Michelle Pfeiffer, Marshall's sister Penny as herself and at least a dozen others of minor note. After watching the movie, it's easy to see why all of them participated. Everyone gets a sizable paycheck, no one has to do any heavy lifting and even the least talented among them delivers their oh-so-basic lines with simpleton ease. Nice work if you can get it.

To get into who shot John and why here would take three feet of newspaper space, gigabytes worth of hard drive memory and would ruin -- if that's the right word -- the plot for any potential viewers. In the interest of fair play and full disclosure it should be mentioned that roughly half of the preview screening audience was very pleased with the movie. They laughed and/or applauded at everything, whether is was remotely funny or not, much in the same manner as paid studio plants.

Keeping the film from being a complete bust are a whopping three twists that come as relative surprises; the most rewarding and heartfelt involving Berry's nurse character. It is achingly bittersweet and the only facet of the story rooted in reality.

The most surprising facet of the movie is the high level of anger and negativity exhibited by so many of the characters. Pfeiffer's mousy office grunt is borderline suicidal, De Niro's is on his deathbed, Bon Jovi and Heigl play feuding ex-lovers, Kutcher is a Grinch, Penny Marshall unnecessarily dresses down a waitress, Swank and Duhamel are flustered and frantic and there are two couples ready to go to blows over a $25,000 prize for the first baby delivered in the new year. These scenes involving the couples are beyond crass and off-putting. The dialogue includes a handful of vulgar euphemisms for a certain female body part and Biel dropping the movie's sole, requisite, PG-13-allowed F-bomb.

In a movie chock-full of cinematic lows, none matches the relentless visual product placement, most of them being flashed on electronic Times Square billboards. The most obvious and pathetic of these comes toward the end featuring an extra long panning shot of a five story poster advertising the upcoming "Sherlock Holmes" sequel -- another Warner Brothers title coming out next week.

If "New Year's Eve" makes even a small profit -- which is more than likely -- you can all but expect Marshall and Fugate to exploit yet another holiday for the sake of a quick buck. Since "Love Actually" has already claimed Christmas, the early front-runner is Thanksgiving. (New Line/Warner Bros.)