If it was possible to wring out the mawkish sentiment from Hollywood films, much like a water-saturated sponge, then New Year’s Eve would comfortably produce several buckets of syrup.
Every frame of Garry Marshall’s romantic comedy is drenched in sticky sweetness, passing off greeting cards platitudes as dialogue and repeatedly reminding us that the end of one year and the beginning of another is about second chances, hope and forgiveness.
The cast is an embarrassment of riches - Oscar nominees and winners, bright young things of stage and screen - all battling valiantly to deliver screenwriter Katherine Fugate’s hoary cliches with sincerity.
Even the formidable Robert De Niro has to grit his teeth as his bed-ridden cancer patient whimpers, “When I was a photographer in Vietnam, I saw death. But nothing prepared me for this.”
Nothing, not even yesteryear’s similarly contrived Valentine’s Day, also directed by Marshall, will have prepared you for this film’s relentless onslaught of schmaltz.
The free-wheeling plot centres on a cross-section of New Yorkers and out of towners, each of whom faces a momentous decision before midnight.
Terminally ill Stan (De Niro) clings onto life under the care of nurse Aimee (Halle Berry), while in the maternity ward, pregnant couples Grace (Sarah Paulson) and James (Til Schweiger) and Tess (Jessica Biel) and Griffin (Seth Meyers) compete to deliver the first baby of the new year.
Newly promoted vice president of the Times Square Alliance, Claire (Hilary Swank) faces technical hitches with the ceremonial drop of the illuminated ball, aided by NYPD cop Brendan (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and engineer Kominsky (Hector Elizondo).
Single mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) clashes with wilful 15-year-old daughter Hailey (Abigail Breslin), while nearby, killjoy Randy (Ashton Kutcher) becomes stuck in an elevator with backing singer Elise (Lea Michele).
Record company secretary Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) offers cycle courier Paul (Zac Efron) four tickets to the hottest party of the year featuring rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) in exchange for realising her resolutions before midnight.
Meanwhile, at the masked ball, Sam (Josh Duhamel) prepares to make a big speech as catering manager Laura (Katherine Heigl) and sassy sous-chef Ava (Sofia Vergara) talk failed relationships and organic eggs.
New Year’s Eve is sickly tosh.
Aside from the plot strand involving Efron and Pfeiffer, Marshall’s film rings hollow, practising shameless emotional manipulation at every turn.
A brief cameo by Matthew Broderick as a suited buffoon called Buellerton - a reference to the iconic 1986 teen comedy which made his name - is more entertaining than wife Parker’s entire performance, which culminates in a preposterous scene worthy of Sex And The City.
Comedy and tragedy are awkward bedfellows in screenwriter Fugate’s hands and as the film approaches the two-hour mark, we silently pray for more of the latter to end everyone’s suffering.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 4/10
Released: December 8 (UK & Ireland), 17 mins