'New Year's Eve' (PG-13)

Valentine’s Day Redux — or as it’s officially known, New Year’s Eve — purports to be about a night on which the “entire world comes together” to celebrate. Considering that most people in this country spend that particular night on the sofa with a bag of chips and some cheap bubbly and are fighting to stay awake at midnight, the premise may be somewhat overstated.

Still, the latest in what is turning out to be a series of secondary holiday-themed movies — can Bastille Day be far behind? — New Year’s Eve is not unbearable. It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either. It delivers exactly what you expect: pretty faces, shallow romance and a mythical fanaticism about an event in a friendly Manhattan unblemished by hyper-vigilant security measures, obnoxious drunks or New York Jets fans. It straddles a strange middle ground that probably bears more scrutiny than we care to give it. If we understood why we could be vaguely entertained by something so slight, we’d probably never get out of bed in the morning.

Does it matter, really, what happens? OK, if it does: Lots of stars spar, fall in love, face regrets and eagerly anticipate the ball drop in Times Square. Names are unimportant in this script; these characters are known by their faces. Bike messenger Zac Efron — who is far and away the best and most charming person on the screen, despite the presence of three Oscar winners — squires around a sad Michelle Pfeiffer and helps her cross dreams off her bucket list. Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele get stuck in an elevator (please, get her out before she starts belting out Streisand).

Josh Duhamel hopes to meet the mysterious woman he met a year ago at midnight. Sarah Jessica Parker worries when her teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) sneaks off to meet a dreamy boy (Jake T. Austin). Hilary Swank is in charge of ensuring the ball drops on time, with an assist from Ludacris. Nurse Halle Berry comforts a dying Robert De Niro. Wait. What the hell is Robert De Niro doing here? Jon Bon Jovi looks fantastic, but honestly, does he really prefer the shrill Katherine Heigl to the Sofia Vergara in a low-cut tight shirt?

Naturally you can’t stare too hard at this shiny, processed bauble or it begins to crack. Zac Efron is Sarah Jessica Parker’s brother? Til Schweiger, who played the bloodthirsty, Nazi-hating Hugo Stiglitz in Inglourious Basterds, is really playing a dad hoping his kid is born at midnight so he wins $25,000 for his family? A trendy record label party — the hottest ticket in town, we are told — features a rock balladeer who performs John Hiatt’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a lovely song especially in its original incarnation but hardly the trendy, clubby Pitbull/Flo Rida/Black Eyed Peas performance such a gathering would actually provide?

So no, don’t look too closely. And when New Year’s Eve pops up on cable next winter, you’ll think hazily that yes, this could be cute, and you’ll watch it again.

Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers.

Director: Garry Marshall.

Screenwriter: Katherine Fugate.

Producers: Mike Karz, Wayne Allan Rice, Jose Rosen.

A New Line Cinema release. Running time: 118 minutes. Language, some sexual references. Opens Friday, Dec. 9 at area theaters.


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