New year's Eve (12A)

1.00

Starring: Robert De Niro, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker

Garry Marshall appears to be flicking through the calendar for inspiration. His last movie was an ensemble romance called Valentine's Day. His latest is an ensemble romance called New Year's Eve, which the promotional blurb calls "the most dazzling night of the year". Such reckless inflation is going to make problems for him down the line. Independence Day has already been taken, so too Thanksgiving. So what's left – Labour Day? Columbus Day? Washington's Birthday? They don't have quite the same ring.

Not that Marshall seems to care, having settled on a template first struck by Love Actually in 2003. Instead of creating a plot, the idea is to cobble together a tray of canapé-sized situations and hope that the wattage of the celebrity cast will blind us to their inadequacy. New Year's Eve adopts the same sort of let's-be-friends voiceover Hugh Grant used to introduce Love Actually, a plea for seasonal cheer in a world where "some people believe there's no magic left". The pictures of Manhattan lit up like a shop window argue (or try to argue) that magic, on the contrary, is all around us. But it will take something wiser and wittier than Katherine Fugate's screenplay (she also write Valentine's Day) to deliver on that suggestion.

The movie's main event – a tradition for New Yorkers but perhaps unfamiliar to non-American audiences – is the Times Square ceremony of "the ball drop" to coincide with the new year striking. There's a person appointed to the job of ensuring the ball (large, glittering) does indeed drop, the Vice President of the Times Square Alliance, played by Hilary Swank. Do you suppose that the ceremony will pass off without a hitch this year? Swank, by the way, gets to do the film's big emotional homily, about new year being the time for fresh starts and "a chance to forgive". This would be the same Swank who recently outraged human rights groups by cheerleading at the birthday party of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, then on returning home fired her manager and team for involving her in the PR disaster. Maybe they should pencil in rapprochement talks with Swank for 31 December – could be their moment.

Few other lines here achieve such resonance. Fugate's script divides the labour into pairings of a mostly romantic or, in the case of Zac Efron's motorbike courier and Michelle Pfeiffer's wilted wallflower, a quasi-romantic nature. Jessica Biel, expecting a baby with husband Seth Meyers, gets into a hospital competition with another couple for the $25,000 being offered for the first birth of the new year. Katherine Heigl plays a party chef jilted and now re-pursued by famous rock star Jensen, played by Jon Bon Jovi, who "really responded to the character and wanted to do it". Must have been a stretch for him. Glee alumna Lea Michele plays a woman stuck in an elevator (poor thing) with cooler-than-thou jerk Ashton Kutcher, as much a lowlight here as he was in Valentine's Day. And, on the grounds of being New York's patron saint of singletons, Sarah Jessica Parker plays a mum who is neurotic about her 15-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) gadding about unescorted in Times Square. Parker is a beneficiary of one of the romantic subplots in which two characters who've spent the film in separate narratives turn out to have an unsuspected connection, a trick that might work if we gave two hoots about any of the characters.

The movie's VIP list goes on, rather in the style of the Christmas TV chat-show that packs out the sofa with star-names. Robert De Niro plays a cancer patient ekeing out his last hours in the hope of watching the ball drop: "Nothing prepared me for this," he croaks, referring either to death or to the quality of the script. (Possibly the same thing). Halle Berry plays his hospital room medic, Chris Bridges is a New York cop, Josh Duhamel is a well-born playboy who samples some blue-collar bonhomie and learns that "it's OK to listen to your heart" – one of several ghastly pep-pills ladled out to the audience like fruit punch at a party. Garry Marshall's approach to the job is essentially that of a pastor to his flock, never happier than when he's geeing them up with inspirational maxims and self-improving slogans. If he worked as hard at giving them laughs, he'd be a comic genius.

Marshall is 77 this year, a year older than Woody Allen. Like Allen, his career has been wildly uneven. His work in TV comedy was prolific both as writer and producer, The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Mork & Mindy among his credits in the 1970s. His feature films have been variable (The Princess Diaries is barely forgivable), though Pretty Woman (1990) is a significant feather in his cap.

It's been a solid crowd-pleasing career by Hollywood standards – which makes stuff like New Year's Eve much harder to take. Its mawkishess is exasperating, its movement arthritic, its grasp of comedy virtually nil. There isn't one single performance, not one single scene which you could point to and say, "That works." Either Marshall should hand Ms Fugate her papers and hire a decent screenwriter, or else pack in the idea of comedy altogether. The only one "dropping the ball" in this picture is himself.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on