There’s nothing new in New In Town, which is a bad thing for anyone who pays good money to see this so-so romantic comedy. The only thing remotely creative about the movie is that it takes the traditional fish-out-of-water structure (i.e. a small-towner moves to the big city in pursuit of her dreams) and turns it on its head. But that’s not enough to make this cold winter’s comedy worth seeing.
Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) is an executive for a food company in Miami. With a new product about to be launched, she’s sent to tiny New Ulm, Minnesota, to supervise the manufacturing. The movie is so comedy-challenged it expects us to believe that a smart career woman such as Lucy would be dumb enough to walk outside in the Minnesota winter without so much as a jacket on. And she wears high heels to work every day. Buck up, sister– it’s okay to dress for the cold.
The workers at the factory don’t take kindly to her. Plant manager Stu Kopenhafer (J.K. Simmons) is convinced she’s there to fire everyone, and plays jokes on her like getting a day off for “Gopher Day.” To her credit she tries to get along with the staff, but her only ally at the plant is her assistant Blanche (Siobhan Fallon), who’s more interested in making tapioca pudding than she is in assisting with office needs.
Lucy’s love interest is Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), a gruff local who’s also the union rep for the factory’s workers. Being a city girl and a country boy, they’re so different that they immediately hate one another, which tells us with 100 percent certainty they will be in love by the time the movie ends.
Naturally there’s a scene in which Lucy finally settles in and feels accepted by the locals, and she even uses her city girl expertise to help Ted’s tomboy daughter (Ferron Guerreiro) get a dress and do her hair before a school dance. Predictably, the tranquility is then undone by the corporate downsizing she was sent there to do in the first place. So now (gasp!) she has to (oh no!) shut down the plant (that’s so unfair! They’re such good people!) or be fired herself.
The movie has some bright spots: Zellweger’s performance is convincing, and thankfully her face doesn’t look like she’s sucking on sour candy, as it often does. Her chemistry with Connick Jr. is serviceable, and the always-reliable Simmons (Spider-Man) gets some good laughs, but he isn’t in the movie enough to have an impact.
There’s nothing awful about director Jonas Elmer’s very harmless, sweet and predictable movie. It’s nice if you have a date and don’t really want to pay attention, or (when it comes to video) to have on in the background while you do something else. But to willingly sit for 96 minutes and endure such feel-good mediocrity? You couldn’t get me out of town quick enough.
NEW IN TOWN (2) Directed by Jonas Elmer. • Starring Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., Siobhan Fallon and J.K. Simmons. • PG-13, 96 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.