- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Year's Eve” is a terrible movie but a fantastic business plan.

Like its predecessor, “Valentine’s Day” (also from director Garry Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate), the movie cobbles together an untenable number of vaguely connected plots surrounding a holiday celebration. The secret sauce is that almost every character, no matter how insignificant, is played by a familiar face, and almost all of these are current or former A-list stars. Robert De Niro? Check. Hilary Swank? Present. Sarah Jessica Parker? Aye-aye! Jon Bon Jovi? Why not?

While it’s unlikely that “New Year's Eve” will do well at the box office, it can expect aftermarket immortality. Look for “New Year's Eve” to be trotted out for broadcast in the run-up to the holiday, first on premium cable, then on TNT or USA, then Lifetime before winding up on ABC Family until the movie’s copyright expires. You probably won’t see “New Year's Eve” in theaters, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to avoid it indefinitely.

As long as a few million people tune in over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year’s every year between now and the end of the world, the studio and the actors will make a pile of money. It’s even possible that the product placement (including a conspicuous ad for the new Sherlock Holmes movie, also from Warner Bros.) could be digitally updated as new marketers buy into the movie. If accountants had critics, they’d be raving: “Breaks new ground in ancillary rights!” “A triumph of deferred compensation!”

The movie pivots around the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. It would be madness to try to summarize the dozen or so story lines that variously intersect or fizzle out. In broad strokes, Miss Swank plays a perfectionist planner charged with bringing the iconic ball-drop. Ashton Kutcher is particularly smarmy as a millennial curmudgeon determined to wait out the night in his pajamas — until he gets stuck in an elevator with singer Lea Michele. The comic talents of Katherine Heigl are squandered on the nothing role of a caterer who is still recovering from a broken relationship with a pop star played by Mr. Bon Jovi. The only winning performance comes from Michelle Pfeiffer as a mousy secretary who is bent on living out all her New Year’s resolutions before midnight.

The film affords no time to delve into any character or story, so everything is kept on the most superficial, cliched level. Worse, New Year’s itself is here positioned as a holiday of personal renewal, occasioning a couple of execrable and embarrassing speeches that play like grade school themes on “What the new year means to me.”

Sadly, there’s nothing redeeming about this holiday celebration.

★ (out of four)

TITLE:New Year's Eve

CREDITS: Directed by Garry Marshall; written by Katherine Fugate

RATING: PG-13 for swearing

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

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