Comedy on downsizing has familiar feel

Harry Connick Jr. and Renée Zellweger in "New in Town."
Harry Connick Jr. and Renée Zellweger in "New in Town."
Posted: January 30, 2009

For a film boasting the title New in Town, the Renée Zellweger comedy about a corporate executive from sunny Miami sent to snowy Minnesota to downsize a food-manufacturing plant, is awfully familiar.

If it feels like a retread of Sweet Home Alabama, that's because one of its screenwriters, C. Jay Cox, penned that script. Still, there are welcome - if intermittent - laughs in this tropical-fish-out-of-water story released as counterprogramming for Super Bowl weekend.

Most of the chuckles are elicited by supporting players Siobhan Fallon and J.K. Simmons as crusty Scandinavian- and German Americans who populate the tightly bound, loose-lipped community of New Ulm (actually shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba).

Fallon's Blanche Gunderson is a hoot, her name and character a tribute to Frances McDormand's you-betcha Marge Gunderson in Fargo, her delivery stealthy as Lily Tomlin's Ernestine. Fallon steals scenes merely by pursing her lips.

Simmons, so memorable as the father in Juno, is almost unrecognizable behind his muskrat pelt of a beard and his Teutonic accent, but - Gott in Himmel! - does he know how to milk a punchline.

As Lucy Hill, Zellweger bastes together a raggedy script woven from the threads of every rom-com ever made, most obviously Baby Boom and Working Girl.

Lucy is an unsympathetic, creme-caramel-consuming corporate suit (in movie shorthand, Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl) out to reallocate power to the tapioca-pudding-eating little people (in same shorthand, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl).

Whether or not you like Zellweger (I do, however, she is a regular punching bag for readers), give her props for integrating villain and heroine without coming off as a case of split personality.

As is the law in comedies with strong female characters, Zellweger's Lucy is ritually humiliated both for her competency and her stridency. Those five-inch heels she affects are not ideal shoes for walking in ice storms, and she frequently slips, slides and pratfalls. Zellweger, no stranger to slapstick, takes all this in good stride (pun intended).

The first Hollywood feature from Danish filmmaker Jonas Elmer, New in Town is so choppy that it would seem to have been edited with a pickax. Maybe somewhere on his editing floor are the scenes that flesh out the relationship that develops between city-mouse Lucy and country-mouse Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), the shop's union steward.


New in Town **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Jonas Elmer. With Renée Zellweger, J.K. Simmons, Siobhan Fallon and Harry Connick Jr. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (canoodling, potty humor)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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