New Year's Eve is a holiday-themed romantic comedy about a record company executive played by John Lithgow, totally absorbed with himself and so chiseling and greedy that he writes his secretary a check for her feeble holiday bonus right in front of her; so broken and devoid of empathy that he cannot comprehend why she would thereafter quit, and so narcissistic that he's incapable of believing that she actually did.

There's some movie around him; a whole lot of it, in fact, given that the character appears in one scene, is not as far I recall given a proper name, and Lithgow isn't credited for his cameo appearance. Despite this - no, actually, that's not true at all, because of this, Lithgow gives the film by far its best comic performance, and almost its only one of even the slightest accomplishment outside of Larry Miller's small role as a sarcastic tow truck drive with a distaste for profanity. Since New Year's Eve exists for almost no other reason than to show off its huge cast of famous people being funny and heartwarming, it can rightly be called a critical flaw that the only people in the whole movie worth a damn are not among the featured 19 stars, who can be quickly divided into the "over-qualified and trying too hard" camp, and the "flavorless, talentless, pretty people who don't need to do more than exist and do so" camp. Not, sadly, into the "basically worthwhile for what they have to do" camp, which is one of many reasons that New Year's Eve falls short of Valentine's Day, to which it is a pseudo-sequel, sharing director Garry Marshall, writer Katherine Fugate, its concept, and three lead actors playing different characters. Note that Valentine's Day already sucked, so the fact that New Year's Eve is a degraded copy should be the first clue of the depths to which the new film sinks; it proves, in its tiny way, that no matter how bad the modern romantic comedy has already become, there's still plenty of room for it to get worse.

The concept, then: a holiday in a major American city, in which a good number of plotlines play out, Altman-style, as a huge cluster of characters who are more or less interrelated bump against and past one another. Here's the first issue: Valentine's Day, being the designated holiday of superficial Hollywoodised romance, made sense for a romcom. Every single plot could be about people hooking up or sticking with them as they already have hooked up with, and it makes sense. Notwithstanding the tradition of midnight kisses, New Year's Eve is not a tradionally amorous event, and that sends Marshall and Fugate to stick a couple of nods here and there to the idea of "fresh beginnings", which means in practice that from time to time, insipid and bog-standard romantic comedy scenarios are interrupted by scenes of Robert De Niro dying of cancer. Fun!

The point being, New Year's Eve isn't as certain of what it's trying to be as Valentine's Day> was, which means it can't even attain the same level of competent, mirthless mediocrity. There are other reasons; there are, in fact, almost nothing but reasons that New Year's Eve is neither competent nor mediocre, though it is unabashedly mirthless - the best and maybe the only good joke in the whole movie is an ad-lib by De Niro making fun of Cary Elwes in the fucking outtakes, and I hope it goes without saying that when the best part of a comedy is both unscripted and found outside of that comedy's diegesis, things have come to a pretty pass.

I am not going to dive into the convolutions of story that it takes to get the film to where it ends up, primarily because it would require blogging in three dimensions to accurately piece together the relationships and how they come together (which is, I might add, far less organically than in Valentine's Day - that film's sole point of inspiration, I think, was the relative elegance with which pieces slid into place - or in Love Actually, which is the proximate inspiration for both of Marshall's films, and which, if it were created according to his and Fugate's barbarically functional notions of storytelling, would have been titled The Week Before Christmas); let us allow merely that the situations are old chestnuts like "nervous couple have a quirky time delivering their baby", and "teenage girl on the cusp of sexuality dodges her neurotic, protective mother" and "career woman desperately runs around trying not to ruin the entire world's holiday celebrations", because it is obviously necessary for New Year's Eve to be a sexist movie, and in the weirdest turn of all, "Michelle Pfeiffer hires Zac Efron to help her complete her 364-day-old resolution list", in case you ever wanted to see what it looks like when a genuinely dazzling old-school romantic leading lady tries to play off a plasticky teen idol. Dispiriting, is what it turns out to look like, especially because Pfeiffer falls right into the nastiest crack of the whole movie acting wise: she's good enough that you can see her fighting the character without being able to redeem it, unlike De Niro, who simply doesn't give a damn and goes right ahead and is An Actor and breaks every scene he appears in, or Hilary Swank, who is just barely good enough to not call attention to how awful the writing is without sinking underneath it, or everybody else in the movie, who is not good at all.

Herein, lies a movie that thinks you can sell somebody as old as Jon Bon Jovi, who looks like Jon Bon Jovi, as the hottest star in America among all them kids who love the pop idols; that moreover, he and Katherine Heigl (16 years his junior) are perfectly natural to cast as romantic interests for one another, and right about now one starts to realise that the part was written for somebody other than Jon Bon Jovi altogether, but he is the best they could scrounge up. Herein, Ashton Kutcher can be saved from his designated role as the Grinch Who Stole New Year's by the power of love by Lea Michele, a dramatically bland non-presence who doesn't spark even a dollop of chemistry with Kutcher until the moment when it suddenly becomes necessary that we understand their bitter bickering to have actually been a sign of attraction even though it absolutely wasn't. Here, there are no minorities with plots of their very own, except for Halle Berry's crammed-in boyfriend in Iraq in the last 10 minutes; other than her and Ludacris as a kindly police officer who acts as Hilary Swank's Boy Friday, the only non-whites are a pair of Colorful Ethnics giving some texture to the Heigl plot, and the weird casting of Latino actor Hector Elizando as a Polish electrician who talks like a stand-up routine from 1955. There are no gay characters at all, except for maybe the one hospital attendant who has a swishy lisp. But it's okay, because pretty white heterosexuals stand in for all of God's children, as we all know. At any rate, Garry Marshall knows it, and has made a career of knowing it.

It's such a clusterfuck of uninteresting characters caught in uninteresting situations and doing things that aren't funny; even as a spot-the-celebrity game, it's not half as rewarding as Valentine's Day, which at least had genuine stars like Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway and Shirley MacLaine. Christ, VD's Patrick Dempsey would count as a step up from most of these people. The good news, at least, is that Fugate and Marshall have already started devouring their own tails with this one, and will hopefully not have enough ideas to populate, I don't know, 4th of July, in which the director of Chicago's fireworks display has to cope with single fatherhood, or Halloween Night, in which the mayor of San Francisco doesn't like costume parties because she no longer believes in love. But if either of those movies end up getting made, you have my permission - nay, my encouragement - to hunt me down and kill me dead.