New Year’s Eve resolves to entertain

Veteran director Garry Marshall doesn’t drop the ball.

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All-star casts. They’re generally good fodder for disaster flicks. And they can sometimes compensate for sub-par material. Such is the case with New Year’s Eve, a hit-and-miss comedy that relies heavily on the charisma of its many leads to offer a pleasant diversion and send audiences home happy.

Garry Marshall and Katherine Fugate, who respectively helmed and wrote 2010’s Valentine’s Day, go back to the well with this similarly fashioned tale, following a number of mini dramas of varying interest over the course of the last day of 2011 in New York City.

A number of actors from the first film are recast in this latest go ’round, including Ashton Kutcher (who tones down the smarm), Hector Elizondo (playing a proud electrician) and Jessica Biel as a mom-to-be who’s due any moment.

Many of the stories interconnect. Jon Bon Jovi’s middle-aged rocker is set to perform in Times Square, making another play for Katherine Heigl’s chef, whom he arranged to cater the after party. Michelle Pfeiffer works for the record company hosting the party, and Lea Michele, trapped in an old-time elevator with Kutcher’s grumpy comic book artist, is one of Bon Jovi’s temp backup singers.

Most of these soap operas are disposable, including the weak mother-daughter rift between Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin; Robert De Niro’s maudlin cancer patient and especially the broken romance between Heigl and Bon Jovi, which only gives the latter an excuse to pine away for his love through song (and overwrought vocals).

A number of other recognizable stars make brief, but generally funny cameos, including John Lithgow as Pfeiffer’s lazy boss, Matthew Broderick as an uptight businessman, Jim Belushi as a wisecracking janitor and The Simpsons’ Yeardley Smith as a reverend’s wisdom-dispensing wife.

Marshall zips effortlessly from one story to another, but in the process shortchanges much of the comedic potential. New Year’s Eve would have been far better if it had pruned its less compelling stories and focused more on Pfeiffer and Efron’s quest to achieve 10 resolutions by midnight. It also would have benefited from a more substantial part for Josh Duhamel, who is a pleasure to watch in his limited role as a handsome bachelor apprehensive about risking his feelings for true love.

Despite its many shortcomings, New Year’s Eve is an agreeable, cute diversion, especially for a date night. It’s fluff, but it’s funny fluff that occasionally manages to be touching.

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