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.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
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
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice