There used to be a line between television and cinema, but lowbrow entertainment successes of the recent past — like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and all the Madea movies — seem to have rubbed the borders between network and studio thin. New Year’s Eve is a big-budget movie, but it feels like the kind of programming we used to get on Movie-of-the-Week shows from 1970s TV, made perfectly to run around commercials for cars, or good movies that we want to see.
To be fair, it’s occasionally not so bad, though it abundantly contains all the usual ingredients of a boilerplate holiday special: big stars in an omnibus melodrama format with enough built-in schmaltz to float a fritter. You might actually mist up at times, though, caught off guard by a trifecta of surprises that includes a dying De Niro, Halle Berry Skyping, and a nicely managed mystery-date twist that takes place at midnight in a defunct trattoria of Little Italy. (The moment’s quickly ruined in a maelstrom of romantic overkill, though.)
It’s a shame New Year’s Eve is so deeply rooted in television’s ideas of reality, although what should we expect from director Garry (Laverne & Shirley) Marshall? Here, we get amusing knuckleheaded ethnics (Sofia Vergara and Russell Peters), a rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) ready to abandon the hedonistic joys of the road for that simple caterer he left behind (Katherine Heigl), and a girl next door (Lea Michele) who proves herself ready to step up to the microphone and sing “Auld Lang Syne” to partying billions. You just gotta have faith, says this overblown piece of fluff.
This movie keeps bad faith in itself, though, not even trying to exceed its cheap-trick quality as a successor to Marshall’s box-office boffo Valentine’s Day. How long before we get Arbor or Columbus Day extravaganzas? Maybe a violent version titled Black Friday, The Movie? At least the wacky pepper-spray scene would be more like real cinema.