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A fish-out-of-water romantic comedy, “New In Town” stars Renee Zellwegger as Lucy Hill, a Miami businesswoman sent to the upper Midwest to overhaul and slash the work force at an underperforming junk-food factory.
Career-minded Lucy isn’t prepared for the biting cold, the quaint small-town customs or the colorful characters she encounters—especially fireman Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), who also happens to be the factory’s labor-union rep.
Lucy faces a crisis when she starts getting attached to the town and its people, making it difficult for her to swing the corporate axe. After her bosses pass along an even harsher directive, she has to come up with a plan to keep the plant from closing.
Most of the jokes involve Lucy’s gradual thaw in her new situation, with snow-blanketed Winnipeg standing in for the central Minnesota community of New Ulm.
“New In Town” huffs and puffs but never really heats up as a romance or a comedy. The opposites-attract chemistry between Lucy and Ted doesn’t seem like it could believably strike a spark, in any climate. And the New Ulm residents are portrayed as frozen oddballs with funny-sounding names, funny-sounding accents and fun-to-make-fun-of lives revolving around ice fishing, beer drinking, scrapbooking, religion, gossip and tapioca.
Most real-life residents of Minnesota probably won’t find that very funny.
Zellwegger struggles in a frosty role that forces her into one comic indignity after another: wrestling with the zipper on her insulated coveralls so she doesn’t pee in her pants, feverishly trying to warm up certain parts of her anatomy after they react to the frigid air, or falling down—twice—in a drunken stupor. And it certainly doesn’t help that many of her scenes are lit and shot in an unflattering way that makes it look like she’s wearing a bizarre, pucker-faced Renee Zellwegger mask and a bad wig.
Connick fares somewhat better playing a single dad who can’t hold back his teenage daughter from growing up—or forget the loss of his wife to an incurable disease.
“New In Town” is a bit of a misfire everywhere else, but the way the New Ulm workers rally to save their factory does offer a fleeting moment of escapist, Hollywood-fantasy relief in these dark days of rampant job cuts, corporate collapse and record-breaking unemployment.
Now if only the nation’s whole upside-down economy could be righted by Renee Zellwegger, Harry Connick Jr. and a big bowl of tapioca.