By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Garry Marshall makes movies so old-fashioned that musical interludes should be played on Victrolas. It's a creaky strategy in which elevators are built to be trapped between floors, air bags inflate at the wrong time and people sing harmony in separate parts of town, all in the name of love.
New Year's Eve is Marshall's latest assault on the calendar and romantic cynicism. Like his previous celebrity mash-up Valentine's Day, it doesn't contain many Hallmark moments. The crowd at an advance screening appeared to have a pleasant time, but to be fair it was a free movie. I'm guessing the trilogy will be completed with Arbor Day, starring another batch of famous check cashers as trees.
Nobody turns down a role in Marshall's movies, apparently before reading the scripts. He may be the only director who would dream of sticking a trio of Academy Awards winners in a single scene and giving them fewer lines (three) than Oscars they own (five). Certainly he's the only filmmaker who could get away with it.
You can't tell the cliched characters without a scorecard, but you can guess their outcomes. Here's your handy-dandy breakdown of what happens in this dry-docked, very special episode of The Love Boat:
Claire (Hilary Swank) is nervously handling her first year as Times Square party supervisor, with a malfunctioning countdown ball. Lucky that Marshall's good luck charm Hector Elizondo is around to save the night with a bad Eastern European accent.
Tess (Jessica Biel) and Griffin (Seth Meyers) anxiously await the birth of their first child but hopefully not too soon. They hope to win the $25,000 prize offered by a hospital for delivering 2012's first baby. So is another couple (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger) across the hall. Plenty of va-jay-jay gags and competitive stares here.
Probably in the same hospital, a cancer patient (Robert De Niro) tries staying alive long enough to see the Times Square ball drop one last time. (Claire had better hurry.) At least the old man has a nice nurse (Halle Berry) offering hope.
Laura (Katherine Heigl) is catering a fancy soiree celebrating a bland rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) she dated until he bolted. Laura is assisted by Ava (Sofia Vergara, the 21st century Charo), who saucily flirts with the singer to no romantic or comical avail.
In the closest thing to a central subplot, mousy Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) has four VIP tickets to Laura's event that she'll give to a bike messenger named Paul (Zac Efron) if he helps her accomplish everything on her bucket list. You don't want to see the last thing they check off.
Elsewhere, a New Year's grouch (Ashton Kutcher) is trapped in an elevator with a refugee from Glee (Lea Michele). A concerned mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) won't allow her daughter (Abigail Breslin) to stay out all night and collect her first kiss. And a nice rich guy (Josh Duhamel) rushes to reunite with a mystery woman he met last New Year's Eve.
Nearly every character is improbably related to another in some fashion, and Times Square is a place where throngs politely turn silent to hear an inspirational speech on a Jumbotron. Notice how many revelers on New Year's Eve 2012 wear 2011 hats. Signs tout Broadway flops like Wonderland that closed months ago, and a Sherlock Holmes ad digitally inserted by Warner Bros. plugs an upcoming blockbuster.
Through it all, Marshall sticks to his rose-colored principles: You gotta have hope, listen to your heart and take leaps of faith. Plus a new one: Parker should never make it through a movie without at least one pair of fabulous shoes.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.