Minnesota is a very cold state. Because of that, the populace is susceptible to a number of maladies the come with the chilly climate, one of which is hypothermia, the symptoms of which, thanks to the Renée Zellweger
/Harry Connick Jr.
romantic comedy, New in Town, a moviegoer can experience in the comfort of a heated movie theater and not have to be troubled to take a biplane to Duluth.
When hypothermia is first experienced, you gasp, your skin begins to cool, your muscles tense and shiver, and your blood pressure increases. This happens almost immediately in New in Town when we are introduced to tight-assed Miami business executive Lucy Hill (Zellweger), sent to New Ulm, Minnesota by her employer to close down a local food manufacturing plant. (As she tells a factory worker, "I'm here to do a job, not to make friends.") Lucy is so stiff and uptight, she recalls an ancient film performance like Elizabeth Allen's priggish and cool New Englander sent to Hawaii and thawed out by John Wayne in Donovan's Reef -- or maybe even Diane Keaton
in Baby Boom. Article continues below
You can see where this is going. With such a well-worn story line, no one feels much vested in such a stale, old, and bankrupt premise. Zellweger comes across a collection of cartoonish Minnesota denizens, so completely repellent in their idiocy and cornball stereotypes that it's hard to believe Bob Dylan and Roger Maris where conceived within the borders of the state. Lucy encounters the okey-dokey-perky Blanche (Siobhan Fallon
) and the surly plant manger Stu (J.K. Simmons
). But the focus of her lip-puffed, snarky contempt is the bearded hunk of union leader Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), whom she encounters the day of her arrival, only to end up arguing about Fergie and beer over a meatloaf dinner. The two cardboard cutouts meet cute, hate each other, and fall in love. Of course Lucy thaws out and gradually learns to love the coat-clad New Ulmites. It's a Gran Torino
for the North County.
After some time one becomes hyper-aware of the direction of Danish director Jonas Elmer
(Nynne), here with his first American film. Subtlety and finesse are lost in his over-strident directing style, which consists largely of a barrage of close-ups, punctuated by what Elmer considers a laugh line and then a Pinteresque pause to make room for the rolling wave of laughs from the theater. Unfortunately those laughs don't arrive. In the script by Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox, the jokes are bald and obvious, strained and cheap -- Elmer gets a lot of mileage out of Lucy having to pee outdoors and an extended joke about erect nipples. All who venture into this one are skating on thin ice indeed. Bundle up.