I think they’re laughing at anyone in the audience …

Theatrical Release Date: 12/09/2011
Director: Garry Marshall
Cast (in alphabetical order): Jake T. Austin, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Carla Gugino, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashton Kutcher, Christine Lakin, John Lithgow, Ludacris, Seth Meyers, Lea Michele, Alyssa Milano, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sarah Paulson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Til Schweiger, Ryan Seacrest, Yeardley Smith, Hilary Swank, Sofía Vergara
Rated: PG-13 for language including some sexual references.
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes


A horse on an escalator? That’s amazing!

February 12th, 2010. A date that will live in infamy. I apologize for casting any flip sensibilities on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked but 2/12/10 was the release date for “Valentine’s Day” … and in a cinematic sense, the landscape is still recovering.

Writer Katherine Fugate and director Garry Marshall went against the ‘less is more’ philosophy and crammed actors in that movie like it was a clown car escaping the Titanic … wait … no, that’s right. While there were some good actors mixed in with the mediocre (and the terrible), the fundamental failing of the picture was having so many different story lines and being obsessed with linking them together like a post-graduate version of six degrees of separation. When word leaked that Fugate and Marshall were re-teaming to do a de facto sequel, the only people happy about it were liquor store owners within a 6 block radius of my apartment.

Well, after seeing what this new holiday-themed movie brings to the table, there’s one thing I won’t badmouth either the writer or director for: learning from their mistakes. Now sure, there are still more big-to-middle named actors here than a Lakers playoff game. However, as far as central plots go, Fugate has begun the road to screenwriter recovery and kept it to five or six, doing a far less OCD job of intertwining the characters just to be clever (or not as the case would be). With a runtime pushing 2 hours, the ability to actually do some measure of character/plot development is not only plausible, it’s serviceably accomplished.

As for the actors, they deliver what you would expect. Don’t expect Katherine Heigl to play anything but a woman looking for love who tears up at all times and acts bossy now and again to mask her insecurities (I think at this point scripts come to her pre-loaded with a Katherine Heigl character). Josh Duhamel plays a decent Josh Duhamel. Lea Michele is here to sing. Period. End of story. Michelle Pfeiffer is beginning to look like Mia Farrow. Abigail Breslin’s face is so caked in make-up, it has an SPF of 5000. Hilary Swank’s large mouth scares smaller fish. Robert De Niro doesn’t read scripts prior to accepting roles, he reads the on-set catering menu. What the hell is a Zac Efron? Etc. etc. Ludacris. Etc.

The scariest thing about this film is that it isn’t the dangerous chemical-laden train wreck one might expect given its predecessor. Sure, some stories are stronger than others, and the transparent attempts to twist some of the relationships at the end were almost comically bad, but the inherent sweetness of the film comes out all right in the end and Sofia Vergara steals every scene she’s in … which is really nice because they’re the ones with Heigl in them.

If you prefer your romance to come with more substantial character development, this year you can try “Beginners” or “Like Crazy“. If you’re a sucker for romantic comedies that prefer you check your mind at the door, “New Year’s Eve” fits the bill and gets a 3 out of 5. It’s probably still asking too much of most boyfriends/husbands to endure what’s on display but getting together a few friends with similar cinematic sensibilities might be the diversion you need amidst this frenetic holiday season.

3 out of 5