After an illustrious career celebrating princesses and prostitutes in film, 77 year-old director Garry Marshall has settled into a sort of Happy Days redux phase focused on holiday pictures. First Valentine’s Day in 2010 and now New Year’s Eve. This nice old gent seems content with trying to make nice pictures about nice days and nice things, like reconciliation, serendipity and love. Except the slapdash New Year’s Eve is neither nicely written, nor nicely acted nor nicely made.
The setting is New York City on December 31. Over in Times Square, nervous Claire (Hilary Swank) prepares for the night’s big festivities. Her job is to make sure the legendary ball drops, an event which provides the movie’s greatest dramatic crisis. Laura (Katherine Heigl), a chef getting her big break, is cooking for a gala at which her ex-boyfriend Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), a rock star who ran out on her last New Year’s Eve, will perform.
Meanwhile a scruffy, pajama and hoodie-clad comic book artist (Ashton Kutcher) with a bad attitude toward the holiday is stuck in an elevator with a girl (Lea Michele) full of cheer. In the fun part of a nearby hospital, two couples (Jessica Biel/Seth Meyers and Til Schweiger/Sarah Paulson) are vying for a $25,000 prize given to the first new baby of the New Year. On another floor, a friendless cancer patient (Robert De Niro, gruesomely hammy) awaits death with his saintly nurse Aimee (Halle Berry). He picked this place to croak because the roof offers a perfect view of the Times Square ball drop. Does writer Katherine Fugate (also of Valentine’s Day) know how to bring it full circle or what?
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Her full circles do tend to raise some logistical questions, though, such as why would it take one character from late afternoon to midnight just to ride by subway from Brooklyn to Times Square while two others traverse every borough by scooter with long stops at a spa, an animal shelter and Radio City Music Hall? If New Year’s Eve’s approach to chronology is suspect, its character development is even sketchier. Most parts have been tailored to their specific celebrity. Sarah Jessica Parker plays a costume designer who lives on a brownstone block just like Carrie Bradshaw’s. (Though this one’s in Brooklyn, which Carrie would never go for.) Michele’s character is, like Glee’s Rachel, a singer looking for her big break, while Bon Jovi is, well, Bon Jovi. Sofia Vergara, playing Laura’s horny sous chef, actually makes a joke that begins “in my couuuuntry,” in keeping with her Modern Family role as the Colombian bombshell.
The film’s use of character and celebrity familiarity as crutches produces a constant state of disappointment. Oh, there’s Michelle Pfeiffer, you think, she’ll bring some class to the joint. She certainly tries, and has a moment or two of grace as put-upon secretary Ingrid, a blatant nod to her pre-Catwoman persona Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. The difference is, no one ever bothers to explain how Ingrid ended up the way she is, neutered and declawed. For much of the movie I assumed she was also suffering from a terminal disease, partly because she’s working through a New Year’s resolution/bucket list (featuring items like “be amazed” and “save a life”) with the aide of an obnoxious young bike messenger (Zac Efron), but mostly because she looks like such hell.
She’s not alone. New Year’s Eve may be the ugliest movie of the year, from the garish lighting to the heavy make up and bad costumes. Lea Michele’s lips are as frosted as a cupcake while the bleached and bronzer-ed Heigl is styled like Britney Spears during her darkest days. It isn’t just the actresses who suffer either; Bon Jovi and Josh Duhamel both appear molded from plastic and Ludacris, playing Boy Friday to Swank’s Claire, has the washed out, hangdog look of a man who hasn’t slept in days.
It might take me until the real New Year’s Eve to list every cast member of note in New Year’s Eve so I’ll refrain. The movie is devised as a Whitman’s Sampler for the masses, something for everyone. The impulse to want to see movies like these come easily — with all these stars in one place it seems as comforting and appealing as the Oscars do every year. (The similarities don’t stop there: all those former Oscar winners and nominees, awkward editing, forced humor and canned dialogue. Plus New Year’s Eve drags on interminably.) But sometimes it’s good to stay home. Think of the bonuses: miss a bad movie, save money and discourage Marshall from starting on Superbowl Sunday or Mother’s Day.
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