Several decades ago a rash of horror movies hoped to capitalize on the success of “Halloween” by tying their plots to other holidays, from April Fool’s Day to Christmas.
“New Year’s Eve” fits right in.
Unfortunately, the film is intended to be a romantic comedy. But its flat direction, stock punch lines, insipid musical numbers and suffocating swarm of characters make it horrifying.
At what point does a celebrity cameo distract rather than add to the plot? “New Year’s Eve” eclipses its allotment in the first reel, as one Oscar/Emmy nominee after another is introduced into this collection of New Yorkers whose lives intersect on Dec. 31.
Some of these subplots — or more accurately, threads — are fairly provocative at the outset.
Hilary Swank stars as the individual in charge of making sure the Times Square ball drop goes smoothly then the apparatus short circuits.
Meanwhile, one pregnant couple (Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers) battle another (Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger) to see who can win the $25,000 prize for delivering the first baby of 2012. Also at the hospital is a patient dying of cancer (Robert De Niro) who wants to survive until midnight to witness the ceremony one last time.
Across town is a meek record label employee (Michelle Pfeiffer) who strikes a deal with a courier (Zac Efron): She’ll give him passes to the city’s most exclusive party if he can help all of her resolutions come true in one night.
That’s just a handful of the stories that weave their way through this bloated ensemble effort. Some build toward an amusing conclusion (the birthing contest, for example), while others are just plain irritating.
Among the most egregious is the broken engagement and reconciliation between a caterer (Katherine Heigl) and a rock superstar (Jon Bon Jovi). And is there a more tortured way to spend New Year’s than being stuck in an elevator with Ashton Kutcher? “Glee” star Lea Michele gets to answer that question.
Reliable charmers Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Meyers and Efron do their best to add a little life to the proceedings. But for every one of them, there’s an equally limp performance (the animatronic Heigl) or inexplicable character (poor Pfeiffer) that burns screen time.
Director Garry Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate represent the team behind last year’s holiday train wreck “Valentine’s Day” — which is not to be confused with the horror flick “My Bloody Valentine.” Their reunion spawns another messy cluster of sentimental heart tugging and sub-sitcom zingers. Aside from improvised bits by the actual comedians in the cast, most of the humor features all the freshness of a weathered bumper sticker.
“There’s gonna be more celebrities here than rehab.”
“This is not ‘Girls Gone Wild.’ ”
“You’re a really hostile guy. Where do you work, the DMV?”
Hopefully, Marshall and Fugate will be stopped before they can tackle St. Patrick’s Day.