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New in Town

A Real Clunker…eh?

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon comes New in Town, a romantic comedy fronted by Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. Zellweger plays icy corporate go-getter, Lucy Hill. Hill lives to climb the corporate ladder and her life is seemingly devoid of any substantive relationships as her life revolves solely around work.

All of this changes dramatically when Hill is re-assigned from her office in sunny Miami and sent to bitterly cold Minnesota to downsize a manufacturing plant. Cue all kinds of pratfalls as the Miami corporate drone runs afoul of small town, folksy Minnesotans. New in Town REALLY tries to be funny and occasionally succeeds. However, the overwhelming majority of the humor in the film revolves around her inability to assimilate/understand the Fargo extras she’s getting to know. There are a couple problems with this.

For starters, those playing the locals seem like caricatures and stereotypes rather than actual characters (like those seen in Fargo). So, their overly cutesy Minnesotan quirkiness seems cartoonish and disingenuous. Secondly, given Hill’s relatively lofty corporate position one would assume she’s done challenging gigs like this before and wouldn’t have SUCH a hard time dealing with the locals. In the other words, the "fish out of water" routine is hard to swallow or laugh at.

On the romantic side of the equation, Harry Connick’s Ted Mitchell is the diamond-in-the-rough type that almost invariably will rub someone like Lucy the wrong way. Naturally, sparks fly as these two butt heads on a myriad of occasions only to warm up to each other in a way that is completely predictable. Admittedly, they are not an entirely unpalatable couple.

But, Zellweger seems like kind of an odd choice for this role. The overwhelming majority of her performances have involved characters who are innately warm and likable. Hill is not entirely unlikable, but it’s really hard to look at Zellweger and see her as a corporate shark willing to shutter a small town manufacturing plant and put a bunch of locals on the unemployment line.

Complementing Zellweger is Harry Connick Jr. who really couldn’t possibly do any worse than his creepy turn in yet another romantic comedy from last year, P.S., I Love You. Connick’s Ted is a relatively charming, ruggedly handsome guy who clearly thinks Lucy is a knockout, but it’s not terribly clear what else draws these two together aside from the fact that they’re both good looking. This may be good for a few rolls in the hay, but a relationship?

The actor who really steals the show and elicits the most laughs is the plant’s foreman, Stu Kopenhafer (J.K. Simmons). Simmons has established himself these past few years as one of the best character actors out there. He never has a big role, but his performances are almost always memorable (Juno, Spiderman, Burn After Reading). Stu manages to play a local Minnesotan and not come across as terribly clichéd. He’s the brightest spot in the film.

At the end of the day, New in Town is the kind of rote, color by numbers romantic comedy that you pretty much always see this time of year. Fortunately, it is at least marginally better than last year’s horrific P.S., I Love You. But, unless you are a die-hard fan of the romantic comedy genre, you will likely be disappointed by this one.