- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Renee Zellweger might be “New in Town,” but not much in this mostly by-the-books chick flick is.

Miss Zellweger stars as Lucy Hill, a fast-rising corporate climber in Miami. (That location explains why her outfits, featuring red patent stilettos, might not seem completely professional to a D.C. audience.) Hoping to impress her bosses enough to win a promotion to vice president, she volunteers to take over downsizing duties on a new plant the food company has acquired. She didn’t realize, though, that the task would involve actually going to the plant - in tiny New Ulm, Minn.

“Welcome to the most German town in the USA,” Lucy reads on a sign as she drives in. (The film actually was shot in the suitably snowy Winnipeg, Manitoba.) The city girl isn’t ready to trade her ballet for bratwurst and night life for knockwurst - she has no intention of staying in Hicksville any longer than necessary.

So she’s particularly annoyed when she thinks her secretary, Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) has tried to set her up with a prime specimen of yokel manhood. She gets off on a spectacularly bad foot with Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.).

She spends her first hour in the office publicly chastising her secretary for the disastrous dinner party. “Let’s just brush this off so I can spend the rest of the morning kissing up to the local union rep,” Lucy finishes.

Of course, that union rep is Ted, and he’s heard the whole thing.

You can guess where this film is going to go from here.

“New in Town” actually starts out with a fair amount of potential. The New Ulm scrapbookers’ circle that opens the film suggests the film could be charmingly quirky. Lucy and Ted’s dinner-table fight, a heated debate about the merits of capitalism, could have pointed the way to a chick flick for thinking women.

Miss Zellweger even keeps her trademark squint to a minimum, and I would say Mr. Connick should be on-screen a lot more if he didn’t make such good music. J.K. Simmons is a standout supporting player as grumpy foreman Stu.

Unfortunately, the film quickly devolves into a mess of cliches. Minnesota and its denizens’ accents were gently mocked to better effect in the Coen brothers’ “Fargo.” Here, it seems as if the filmmakers didn’t see any redeeming qualities in the people.

The tension between the corporate woman and the union guy isn’t taken advantage of - that first argument is the only good one of the film. Her jargony business-speak isn’t even very good parody. Characters aren’t developed well, either. Ted belches in his first scene, then behaves like a perfect gentlemen for the remainder of the film.

Thankfully, an extended gag about the part of Lucy’s anatomy that can least withstand the cold is soon forgotten.

With a script like this, “New in Town” will be, too.

★★

TITLE: “New in Town”

RATING: PG-13 (Brief strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jonas Elmer. Written by Ken Rance and C. Jay Cox.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: newintownmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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