At the Movies: “New Year’s Eve”

Garry Marshall must be the most popular guy in Hollywood.

Either that or he has incriminating photos.

What else could explain the cavalcade of stars of screens large and small who answered his call to appear in “New Year’s Eve,” a movie that ultimately is little more than a really bad episode of “The Love Boat” that lacks only Gavin MacLeod’s exposed knees and an appearance by Charo?

The Curmudgeon knew very little about the movie before arriving at the theater:  he knew it was a Garry Marshall movie, which is usually a good thing; he knew it had a great cast, which is usually a good thing; but while he had not read any reviews of the movie, he had seen the headlines of a few reviews and they were not exactly glowing – which is not usually a good thing.

But how bad could it be?  After all, while Mr. Marshall isn’t exactly aspiring to the level “Citizen Kane,” he’s been a pretty successful director over the years.  He’s made some apparently entertaining movies (not that The Curmudgeon has seen many of them, but he’s heard, he’s heard), including “Beaches,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Georgia Rule,” “Nothing in Common,” “Runaway Bride,” “The Flamingo Kid,” “The Princess Diaries,” “Valentine’s Day,” and others that either were popular or at least somewhat engaging.  (The Curmudgeon has nothing positive to say about what is probably Mr. Marshall’s most famous movie, which glorifies the antics of a rich guy who buys a hooker for a week.)

Still, since he didn’t know much about “New Year’s Eve,” The Curmudgeon arrived at the theater with minimal expectations.

Unfortunately, those expectations proved realistic.

The first hint that this might not have been the best choice for the evening was the audience.  Until the second of the fourteen or fifteen coming attractions, The Curmudgeon and his date had the entire theater to themselves – never a good sign.  Word of mouth usually matters, and the words associated with “New Year’s Eve” apparently had spoken volumes.

When the movie finally begins, the cast starts unfurling – like the sail on a boat.  Like a red carpet fleeing an approaching Joan Rivers.  Like a roll of paper towels that has been tugged with too much gusto while held aloft outdoors in a stiff breeze.  Scene after scene brought pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise – a combination of enjoyable performers, some of the most beautiful women and hunky men in show business, and plenty of reliable actors and familiar faces.  Like a cinematic Noah’s ark they generally arrived in pairs, bearing their own subplots – subplot after subplot after subplot after subplot that at first subtly and then not-so subtly slowed viewers’ recognition that despite these many subplots, all of them put together didn’t add up to any plot at all.  For 118 minutes, “New Year’s Eve” proceeded without plot or purpose, a mere picaresque about nothing at all.

You have to wonder why so many highly employable performers would choose to make such an egregious employment decision.  The Curmudgeon understands why Seth Meyers decided to appear in this movie; Hollywood is almost certainly not knocking down Seth Meyers’ door.  Others are still in the process of developing movie careers and probably saw “New Year’s Eve” as a good opportunity to work with a very successful director and his cast of distinguished thousands, so The Curmudgeon shall give a pass to Zac Ephron (confession:  The Curmudgeon has heard the name but had no idea which one was him until his beautiful and much more learned companion for the evening pointed him out), Sarah Paulson, Carla Gugino,  Russell Peters, Lea Michele (better-attuned companion had to explain who she was as well), the always fun and reliable Larry Miller, and Yeardley Smith, also always fun.

The Curmudgeon also will give a pass to Penny Marshall.  Blood, after all, is thicker than water.  And to Sarah Jessica Parker:  it was a relatively minor role but appropriate for a relatively minor talent.  The cute is fading fast and Ms. Parker needs to take pretty much anything that comes her way because it won’t be coming much longer.

He will issue other passes as well.

Hilary Swank probably decided to appear in the movie because for once, she got to play an ordinary person.  For Sofia Vergara and Alyssa Milano, the appeal was probably the opportunity to appear in a movie instead of on television (and Vergara was easily the best thing in the movie).  Jim Belushi probably had some time on his hands and figured an easy payday wouldn’t hurt.  Ditto Cary Elwes.  The Curmudgeon is even willing to go out on a limb and accept the improbable appearance of an aging but still lovely Michelle Pfeiffer, who undoubtedly has come to realize that her days with her name above the title have passed and it’s time to start building a new career in supporting roles in a manner that leading men never seem to need to do but that others like Ms. Pfeiffer failed to do – Jill Clayburgh, Amy Irving, and Dyan Cannon come to mind, although there surely are others – and disappeared as a result.

And finally, The Curmudgeon awards a pass to Hector Elizondo, who apparently is one of the official Garry Marshall Players.

But Robert DeNiro?  What on earth could he have been thinking?  Is it even remotely conceivable that he read the script, called his agent, and demanded, “Get me in this movie, no matter what it takes, no matter what they want to pay me”?

And Halle Berry?  Surely she has her pick of the choicest roles, so why oh why oh why did she pick this one?

And Katherine Heigl – did Hollywood tire of her that quickly?

And Jessica Biel – was the appeal that someone offered her a role in which that astonishing figure of hers was irrelevant?

Jon Bon Jovi takes on acting roles every once in a while, but of all the opportunities, why this one?  Someone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Speaking of Bueller, Matthew Broderick – well, his wife was already there so he might as well tag along and look his age (and even older and pastier) for once in a very short scene that was utterly irrelevant to the movie.

Josh Duhamel?  Wasn’t he supposed to be on his way to being the next Big Thing?

John Lithgow – one of the most versatile and fun performers in the entire entertainment industry?  Slumming like this?

Ashton Kutcher?  Really?

But the questions go further.  Somebody spent perfectly good money to make this movie.  The Curmudgeon has no idea how much it costs to make such a movie, but let us assume, purely for the sake of discussion, that it cost $40 million.  What studio head read this script and said, “Sure, I’ll put up $40 million to make this movie”?  (And, parenthetically, is it possible for The Curmudgeon to get some of whatever that studio head was drinking/smoking/snorting/shooting?)

You know a movie is bad when the funniest thing in it is the bloopers they show as the credits start to roll; at least, that’s what elicited the most laughter from the audience (if you’re willing to call four people an audience; The Curmudgeon calls it a point guard short of a basketball team).

In high school, The Curmudgeon had to read a play by Luigi Pirandello called “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”  “New Year’s Eve,” it turns out, was a cast of dozens in search of a movie.  Alas, they never found one.


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