The film New Year’s Eve, featuring Hamptonites Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Jon Bon Jovi, is easily as bad an atrocity as has ever been projected onto a screen. Don’t blame the actors, though. They can’t have known what they were getting into. Grandly conceived as an Altmanesque smorgasbord of characters and plotlines taking place in New York City over a small stretch of time (namely, New Year’s Eve), the movie comes a cropper in the face of flat jokes, maudlin sentimentality, and embarrassing racial stereotypes. Moreover, it appears that director Garry Marshall, perhaps in a late-career attempt to produce his magnum opus, saw fit to cram all of the stale storylines and gags from his old “Happy Days” series into one interminable picture. As each clunker of a joke fell off the screen and straight onto the floor, I started to long for a “Happy Days” laugh track to fill the dead air in the theater.
An estranged couple reconciles, the ingénue gets her big break, boy and girl meet cute in a stalled elevator, the teenage girl gets her first kiss and the repressed secretary breaks out of her shell. The rich, entitled playboy chooses the path of true love, the young wise-guy turns out to have a heart of gold, a misanthrope is struck by cupid’s arrow, the dying man receives forgiveness, the young father-to-be freaks out as his wife goes into labor – the list goes on. New Year’s Eve is a Frankenstein, stitched together pieces of cast-off sitcom viscera. As each of these hoary strands of recycled plot reaches a tearful “Hallmark” moment, the director fades in the wistful music as a signal to pull out the Kleenex. I suggest such moments as opportunities to use the bathroom.
Like a 70’s television show, New Year’s Eve uses foreigners and minorities as a source of tasteless humor. Sofia Vergara, as a Latina sous chef to Katherine Heigl’s head chef, acts like Charo on crack, while her Indian sidekick, played by Russell Peters, could have been conjured by Peter Sellers at his politically incorrect peak.
The director clearly wanted New York City to be a character of its own in New Year’s Eve. And who doesn’t like a bit of New York bluster and grit to sharpen the edges of the movie screen? But rather than the blunt, fuhgeddaboudit New York that we usually see in movies, New Year’s Eve serves up a sort of candy-coated city, centered on the garish commercial spectacle of Times Square. I came away with the impression of a New York populated by well-behaved tourists, gentle cops and bit players from old episodes of “Barney Miller.”
When a movie is okay, you let minor quibbles go, since they don’t really take away from your pleasure. But when a movie is this bad, you start to question all the details. For instance, would the Rockettes really still be rehearsing their Christmas show on December 31? Would a Connecticut family really travel to the city on New Year’s Eve in a recreational vehicle? Are we to believe that a world-class chef would spend most of her time on the job slicing pineapple? If you really want to join me in pondering these pointless questions, then by all means see New Year’s Eve.