"New Year's Eve" is the second in a remarkably shallow series of holiday-themed, celebrity-stuffed confections from director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate after their 2010 "Valentine's Day" collaboration. Of course, the really good stuff will come once they get to "Columbus Day," or maybe, "Ash Wednesday."
Many elements are the same as in "Valentine's Day," just moved back on the calendar a few weeks, with the script again weaving together a dozen or so plot lines that crisscross a holiday prone to sentimentalizing.
If there is some kind of world record for schmaltz, this may have set it. Included here are first kisses, midnight rendezvous, dying fathers, newborn babies, husbands at war and trapped strangers. It's narcotic mawkishness, with notes played on heartstrings like a 12-string guitar. Though it's pure, rosy fantasy on screen, this is cynical, paint-by-the-numbers entertainment, sold with a gaggle of stars spread across its movie poster like a telethon lineup.
The threads of romance emanate from - where else? - New York's Times Square. Hilary Swank plays a character running the ball-drop festivities, at which a famous rocker (Jon Bon Jovi as "Jensen") is to perform, and where various police keep watch, including one played by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.
Some of the footage from these scenes came from New Year's Eve 2010 in Times Square, shot by cinematographer Charles Minsky. This, surely, is the film's biggest accomplishment: The atmosphere is very true to the Times Square celebration.
Katherine Heigl plays a chef catering a pre-party featuring Jensen, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Her sous chef is Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family."
Abigail Breslin, now a teenager, is hoping to join her friends in Times Square, but her mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) won't let her. Jessica Biel, with husband Seth Meyers, is going into labor, competing for the new year's first baby against a rival couple (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger).
Michelle Pfeiffer plays a meek office assistant who quits her job (John Lithgow plays her record-label executive boss, a good bit of casting that should have spawned laughs) and hires a courier (an ultra-confident Zac Efron) to help her accomplish a list of resolutions.
Ashton Kutcher, as a bearded grouch, gets stuck in an elevator for hours with backup singer Lea Michele. (Alas, no bathroom needs would spoil their budding romance.)
Most incredulous, perhaps, is the pairing of nurse Halle Berry and dying Vietnam veteran Robert De Niro.
Editor Michael Tronick deserves credit for stitching all of these corny story lines together smoothly.
But the first and only honest moment of the film occurs during lighthearted extras and outtakes at the end.
Carla Gugino, who plays the OB/GYN delivering the expected babies, hints at the crassness of the enterprise. In a gag, she emerges from between Biel's legs with "Valentine's Day" DVDs.
Congratulations. It's dreck.