(On Cable TV, May 2013) Ensemble movies are a tricky mixture: there are usually too many characters and not enough running time to do them justice, and that’s even before getting into the sad fact that not all stories are equally as compelling. New Year’s Eve does its best at using pre-built sympathy for Dec.31 to launch a tapestry of romantic subplots, but the results are still variable. The links between the characters are intricate (sometimes even played for ironic laughs, as the moment near the end where we think two characters are racing to meet… only to pass each other on the street as they race to get to someone else) and figuring them out can be a good way to keep those synapses busy… but the real point of New Year’s Eve is a big mushy feeling of romantic satisfaction by the time the end credits roll. Director Garry Marshall does his best to keep everything interesting while juggling roughly two dozen name actors, but the script isn’t his best friend in this regard. In fact, New Year’s Eve may be most remarkable for its inability to deliver a consistently enjoyable subplot. Everything feels contrived, conventional, overly dramatic or implausible beyond belief. Zac Efron romancing Michelle Pfeiffer? Eh, why not –but don’t expect anyone but those two to care. While it’s hard to single out any actor as being better than the others, it’s not so difficult to identify those who are more irritating than others: Sofia Vergara is particularly exasperating in her usual shrill near-incomprehensible screen persona. Katherine Heigl also does herself no favour by reinforcing her already-annoying typecasting. Otherwise, the best the actors can do in this mess is to remain unnoticed. It’s not as if New Year’s Eve is dislikable; in fact, much of the issues with the film are that it tries so hard to be loved that it feels desperate in taking no chances. See it at the tail end of Dec.31 if you must, but don’t let it come between you and any meaningful contact with your loved ones.