Sometimes the actors are the only reason to go see a movie. Think how important Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were for “Titanic” (1997). Unfortunately, Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. fail to save the dismal romantic comedy “New In Town” (2009). With mediocre acting and a predictably insipid plotline, “New In Town” should be a desperate Sunday night movie rental at best.
Lucy Hill (played by Zellweger) is a young, successful Miami businesswoman working her way up the corporate ladder. When she is assigned to revamp operations at a manufacturing plant in Minnesota, Lucy is forced to trade in her Manolo Blahnik shoes and cosmopolitan lifestyle for snow boots and blue-collar society. At first, the culture shock is just as unbearable as the frigid Minnesota temperature, but Lucy eventually settles into life in a rural town, even snagging herself a guy along the way.
If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is — to the extreme. “New In Town” joins a laundry list of romantic comedies that involve some variation of a high-maintenance city girl moving to the middle of nowhere and falling in love with the charming small town guy that annoys her in the beginning. “Sweet Home Alabama” (2002) and “The Notebook” (2004) are just two examples.
Ultimately, there’s nothing new that makes “New In Town” worth watching. The plot is formulaic, and the characters are bland and uninteresting. This is one of the precious few movies set in Minnesota since “Fargo” (1996), and it’s doubtful that there will ever be another because even on screen the actors couldn’t keep the misery and discomfort caused by the icy temperatures off of their cold, red faces.
One of the film’s biggest downfalls is its pathetic attempts at humor. In one scene, Hill goes bird hunting. During the hunt, she needs to go to the bathroom and is sent out into the woods with a roll of toilet paper to fend for herself. While it is slightly entertaining to watch Lucy try to unzip the bulky, ridiculous-looking, full-body hunting suit she is in, the whole ordeal ultimately gets nothing more than a mere smirk or chuckle out of the audience. In an attempt to help her, Ted Mitchell (played by Harry Connick, Jr.) unsuccessfully tries to undo her back zipper and wildly flings her around in the process. He eventually resorts to turning her over and cutting a hole in the derriere of her suit. Sadly, that’s about as funny as it gets.
Not even Zellweger’s star power can save her from her unconvincing and overall lackluster performance in “New In Town.” Throughout the film Zellweger never seems to connect with her character, causing Lucy to appear awkward and suffer a few missteps in comedic timing. The real problem, however, lies in the fact that Zellweger is out of her element playing the dull, cookie-cutter role of convertible-driving, Manolo Blahnik-wearing Lucy Hill. Zellweger truly shines in quirkier roles like seductive death row inmate Roxie in “Chicago” (2002), or the frumpy but endearing Bridget in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001), where her characters not only have more substance, but also more of an edge.
While Zellweger fails to entertain, Connick Jr., thankfully, does a respectable job of playing Mitchell, the local union representative for the manufacturing plant workers. To Hill’s dismay, she and Mitchell are forced to work together in her reorganization of the plant, which often leads to bickering. At first Hill finds Mitchell to be an uncouth, repulsive man who drinks beer and drives a pick-up truck, but soon enough their “strictly business” relationship turns into something more. Like always, Connick leaves every girl in the theater swooning as his character warms up to Lucy and uses his good ol’ Southern-gentleman charm (never mind that the movie is technically set in Minnesota) to win her over. Although a few sparks do fly between Zellweger and Connick, their on-screen chemistry still isn’t enough to keep the movie from being one long drag.
The unoriginal plotline and lack of comedy ultimately make “New In Town” another romantic comedy disappointment. Zellweger’s failure to connect with her role and the bland, one-dimensional quality of the other characters relegate “New In Town” to a probable (and well-deserved) box-office bust.