Film Review: 'New Year's Eve'

It was only last year that director Garry Marshall's “Valentine's Day” raked in enough moolah to reach 23 on Box Office Mojo's highest-grossing “romantic comedy” list. That was apparently enough to trigger a follow-up — not, technically, a sequel — so Marshall (“Pretty Woman,” “Young Doctors in Love”) has reteamed with screenwriter Katherine Fugate for “New Year's Eve,” which follows the same template down to the smallest detail: Cast a score of stars in a dozen or so seemingly unrelated stories, all about love in its many forms. Then, during the course of one compact day, slowly reveal how the stories actually are related, even as life lessons are learned and happy endings are tidily achieved.

Early on in “New Year's Eve,” a character eyes the festive preparations and remarks, “There's more celebrities here than in rehab” — which could also be said about the film. Whatever their virtues and faults, Marshall's “holiday films” are a gift to devotees of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. (The only performers to appear in both – none reprising their original roles — are Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel and Hector Elizondo.)

In addition to changing the holiday, the movie also switches the locale from Los Angeles to New York. This tightens up the structure, since a single real-world event — the dropping of the Times Square ball — provides a unified culmination/deadline for the characters and their issues.

Laying out all the stories would require several pages — and a lot of reader patience — so just for a taste: Hilary Swank plays the nervous, newly promoted overseer of the ball drop, which of course has technical difficulties. Katherine Heigl is the caterer for the night's most prestigious party and the ex-girlfriend of Jon Bon Jovi, the entertainment. Among his back-up singers is Lea Michele, who panics about being late when she is trapped in a stalled elevator with Kutcher, a New Year's Scrooge.

Over in the maternity ward, Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel vie with Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson to have the year's first birth. Elsewhere in the hospital, nurse Halle Berry attends to terminal patient Robert De Niro, who has no chance of lasting through the night (according to Dr. Cary Elwes). And then....

See what I mean? That's barely the half of it. Other major plot threads involve Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Elizondo, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Josh Duhamel, Sofia Vergara, Carla Gugino, Larry Miller and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. In addition, Common, John Lithgow, Penny Marshall, Matthew Broderick, Ryan Seacrest, Jim Belushi, Yeardley Smith and Michael Bloomberg all show up for cameos.

Given its Altmanesque narrative technique, it would be easy to dismiss “New Year's Eve” as “Nashville” for Dummies — but that would be unfair. It's almost blandly middle of the road, or middle brow, or any other “middle” you might come up with, but it's well put together, mercifully shorter than the 2-hours-plus “Valentine's Day,” and with fewer rough edges.

As in “Valentine's Day,” the plot revelations are cleverly handled. The film drops hints about how the characters will turn out to be related, letting viewers feel sage as they figure things out — except then the hints turn out to be misdirection. We've been conned — but in a good way.

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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