There’s nothing much “new” in this predictably formulaic romantic comedy that seems to be populated by rejects from “Fargo” auditions, muttering “gotcha,” “ooh-yah” and “okey-doke.”
Based in balmy Miami, Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) is an ambitious dairy food company executive who agrees to relocate temporarily to New Ulm, a small town in Minnesota, to supervise the downsizing of a local factory. Trekking off to that obscure locale in the middle of winter in a miniskirt and spike heels, carting a mountain of matched luggage, she finds some folksy, droll characters like Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), a single-father snowplow driver/fireman/union rep, and Blanche Gunderson (Siobbhan Fallon Hogan), her perky assistant. Some chilly chemistry ignites with Ted, while Blanche elicits most of the chuckles. There’s also the usual inquisitive realtor (Frances Conroy) and impudent plant manager (J.K. Simmons).
Screenwriters Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox (“Some Sweet Alabama”) never develop Lucy’s character enough to illustrate the life-altering decisions she makes at a pace that’s all-too-quick to be credible, and the bantering between her and Ted lacks the wry wit and verve necessary for this genre. And was it deliberate that Blanche Gunderson’s last name is the same as Frances McDormand’s pregnant cop character in the Coen brothers’ Minnesota-based “Fargo”?
Danish director Jonas Elmer (“Nynne,” “Monas Verden”) is making his English-language film debut – and it shows – as Renee Zellweger demonstrates pitifully little of the charm that epitomized her previous “Bridget Jones” forays. And cinematographer Chris Seager’s insistence on “Natural Exposure” light is less-than-flattering, particularly in the repetitive close-ups. On the other hand, Harry Connick Jr. exudes an easy, breezy charm that should serve him well in attracting future – and hopefully, better – projects.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “New in Town” is a frostbitten 3, as bleak as the landscape. What’s in their favor is the topicality of financial distress caused by job losses. But that’s not enough, particularly when weighed down with tapioca pudding.