February 5, 2009

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New In Town (PG)
Renee Zellweger scrunches up her face to play a fish out of water in the achingly stupid New In Town, an allegedly romantic alleged comedy.

In this age of executive incompetence, Lucy Hill (Zellweger) might quite possibly be the dumbest management executive ever. When her company needs someone to oversee the downsizing (and possible closing) of a plant in Minnesota, she arrives in stiletto heels and a tiny coat and acts as though they have neither the Weather Channel nor a map of any kind in her hometown of Miami. She makes every social faux pas possible as she alienates the plant foreman and the union rep, turning up her scrunchy nose at the (albeit highly caricatured) quirks of small-town life and makes those “why, I never!” squeaks when some (completely expected) trouble befalls her, usually because of her moronic behavior. Her assistant Blanche (Siobhan Fallon) is one of the few people who seem impervious to Lucy’s idiocy. Despite having an accent straight out of a Garrison Keillor sketch and a penchant for scrapbooking, Blanche is actually a rather smart cookie. Though Lucy is usually able to thwart Blanche’s attempts to keep her from making an ass of herself, Blanche nonetheless tries to help Lucy forge a good relationship with the townsfolk and particularly with Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), the union rep. Because this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, Lucy and Ted naturally have hate-at-first-sight feelings for each other and naturally these melt into something considerably warmer even through they are on opposite sites of the management/labor fence.

Like sandpaper to the face, this movie caused pain, inflammation, irritation and minor abrasions from its first hackneyed scene to its overly cutesy end. I hated Renee Zellweger’s character here with a kind of loathing and disgust I usually save for low-level Nazis or corporate motivational speakers. Lucy is, by any measure, a complete halfwit. There is nothing about her that suggests a cut-throat ambitious company gal or a rising-star smartypants. She has no people skills (something one might need in the corporate world), no business sense, no appealing personal qualities and no ability to manage anyone. The movie puts this witless charm-deficient snotface in a snow-encrusted Brigadoon filled with good-hearted, Sarah Palin-accented yokels (doncha know) and sets up a situation where we are supposed to believe that she will face a difficult moral choice. Oh please. The only thing the movie leaves in doubt is how much Lucy-learns-to-respect-Real-Americans we’ll have to suffer through before we reach a big kiss and a swelling score.

What aggravates me even further about this movie is how it misses every single opportunity to be interesting. At the very beginning of the movie, Lucy is pushed into going to Minnesota by her male colleagues, with the suggestion that they look forward to her failing (or at least being out of the office). How about doing a little something with the struggles of a female executive? Blanche is quite smart and perhaps even a good rival for Lucy — I can imagine an alternate universe version of this movie where the unslick Blanche realizes she has what it takes more than the too-slick Lucy. And then there’s Harry Connick Jr.’s part — he isn’t really a full character, he’s just Male Love Interest, Flannel Variant. There is so little of his character I’m not really sure which more interesting way he could have gone. I suppose the possibilities are infinite. Infinite like the ways this movie ticks me off. D

Rated PG for language and some suggestive material. Directed by Jonas Elmer and written by Ken Rance and C. Jay Cox, New in Town is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.