Not one to leave well enough alone, Garry Marshall, the director of, among others, The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride, Pretty Woman, and Beaches is back with his Valentine’s Day screenwriter, Katherine Fugate, for New Year’s Eve, a haphazard compendium of romantic comedy clichés spread across two hours and eight storylines.Add to that a couple of slumming Oscar winners, two (or more) Oscar nominees, fading movie stars, wannabe movie stars (TV actors by any other description), and the result has to be one of the most painful movie-going experiences in recent memory.

After serving as the best man at a friend’s wedding, Sam (Josh Duhamel), an affluent Manhattanite races back home from upstate New York for a very important midnight date. With his high-end, luxury car inadvertently totaled in an accident, he has to hitch a ride back with the pastor and his family in their RV. Why an RV instead of a car, van, or even an SUV? Because it delays his arrival in NYC until the latest possible moment, it gives him the chance to recount a presumably romantic story about an unnamed woman he met a year earlier who he hopes to meet again at midnight, and because there’s nothing more humorous than traveling by RV into Manhattan.

Another storyline follows, Randy (Ashton Kutcher), a New Year’s Eve-hating, hipster comic-book artist, who ends up stuck on an elevator with the overdressed neighbor, Elise (Lea Michele). She’s late for very important date, but that’s par for the [i]New Year’s Eve’s[/i] course. Everyone has to be somewhere at or around midnight. Otherwise, their romantic desires will go unfulfilled. As for Randy, he may look and sound like a hygiene-challenged, fashion-averse cynic, but beneath all that cynicism lies the broken heart of a hopeless romantic.

In another underwritten storyline, Kim (Sex in the City’s Sara Jessica Parker), the 40-something mother of a semi-rebellious teen, Hailey (an over-emphatic Abigail Breslin), has to figure out how to balance her overwhelming desire to (over) protect Hailey while allowing her daughter to do the things teen girls are wont to do, like follow their newly activated libidos and rendezvous with the love of her (teenage) life for a midnight kiss ).

In yet another wince- and/or cringe-inducing storyline, Laura (Katherine Heigl), a hot-shot chef prepares for the biggest night of her career, a party where her ex-fiancé, Jensen, a bland rocker played by the bland Jon Bon Jovi, is set to perform. He sprinted out of their relationship after proposing to her. She’s understandably still holding a grudge. For “comic” relief (“comic” used here to describe intent and nothing else), Marshall and Fugate rely heavily on Sofia Vergara’s Ava, reprising her English-challenged, malapropism-prone, Latina-American stereotype from Modern Family.

New Year’s Eve saves its quirkiest story for ar fling between Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron, or rather between the characters they play. Pfeiffer portrays Ingrid, an executive assistant, who after finally quitting her job, hires Efron’s messenger character, Paul, to help out and do everything on her lengthy wish list before the night’s out. Some items on her wish/bucket list seem improbable, if not impossible, to complete on short notice, but messenger boy comes through repeatedly with bursts of creativity and imagination.

Three other stories seem to have little to do with romance or romantic longing. One involves a couple, Tess (Jessica Biel) and Griffin (Seth Meyers), about to give birth. If she gives birth at or immediately after midnight, a hefty cash bonus is theirs. In another, a terminally ill cancer patient, Stan Harris (Robert De Niro), fights to make it through one last New Year’s Eve with the help of a compassionate nurse, Aimee (Halle Berry). In another, Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank), a harried, hurried VP of something or other in charge of the midnight ball drop, struggles with a potentially career ending snafu. She too keeps mentioning a midnight date of some kind.

With every romantic plot and subplot neatly, if improbably resolved, moviegoers will be left, if not where we began, then similarly situated, except two hours poorer. On the strength of New Year’s Eve, romantic optimists will be become diehard pessimists and diehard pessimists will become lifelong cynics. If New Year’s Eve strikes a box-office chord with moviegoers, we can expect Marshall and Fugate to ruin another holiday, romantic themed or not.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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