*It is unavoidable that this picture would be compared to the similarly-structured Valentine’s Day and Love Actually, given how both of those romantic comedies also revolve around the relationship issues of a number of couples whose lives serendipitously intersect on a big holiday. The good news is that this film is far superior to the former, although it unfortunately falls short of the latter, which landed on this critic’s Annual Top Ten List for 2003.

Directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) New Year’s Eve features an ensemble cast stocked with matinee idols at every turn, most notably, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ludacris, Karen Heigl, Matthew Broderick, Jessica Biel and Common. The point of departure is Manhattan on a balmy December 31st which is where we find each of the protagonists anticipating the imminent arrival of 2012, though for very different reasons.

Corporate executive Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank) is too busy with the responsibility of overseeing the annual Times Square extravaganza with the help of TV host Ryan Seacrest, an NYPD officer (Ludacris) and a crack repairman (Hector Elizondo) to attend to a pressing personal matter. Nearby, event planner Laura Carrington (Heigl) is reluctantly putting the finishing touches on a rock concert at which her rock star ex-boyfriend, Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), will be headlining.

Meanwhile, one of his backup singers (Lea Michele) suddenly finds herself stuck in an elevator with a grouch (Ashton Kutcher) who had vowed not to celebrate the holiday. Then there’s the helicopter mom (Parker) who’s so obsessed with her teenage daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) crush on a classmate (Jake T. Austin) to think about her own needs.

Hospital-bound Griffin (Seth Meyers) and his 9-months pregnant wife, Tess (Biel), are hoping to win the $25,000 prize for having the first baby born after midnight. Elsewhere in the hospital, a terminal patient on the cancer ward (De Niro) is trying to talk his empathetic nurse (Berry) into taking him up to the roof to watch the ball drop. And this thoroughly-modern mosaic wouldn’t be complete without a tale about a cradle-robbing cougar (Pfeiffer) being serenaded all over town by an ardent admire young enough to be her son.

Like a classical conductor, veteran director Marshall masterfully executes a cinematic balancing act here, seamlessly intertwining these discrete storylines ever so effortlessly. All roads lead to Times Square as the tension slowly ratchets, with enough surprising twists and touching reveals along the way to tug on your heartstrings.

A New Year’s toast as sentimental as singing Auld Lang Syne!

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual references.
Running time: 117 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

To see a trailer for New Year’s Eve, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1Y2uXjsKjs