Lionsgate // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // May 26th, 2009
She's an executive on the move. But her career is taking her a little farther than she expected.
The fish-out-of-water scenario is the stereotypical set-up for romantic comedies, and unfortunately New in Town does little to rise above cliché.
Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger, Chicago), an up-and-coming executive with a Miami-based processed food giant, finds herself in small-town Minnesota to oversee the major overhaul of a manufacturing plant, hoping her dedication will be rewarded with a promotion to vice president. The job's made tougher by freezing temperatures, a cold reception from local residents, an uncooperative plant manager (J.K. Simmons, Juno), and a union boss (Harry Connick Jr., Copycat) suspicious of her motives. The longer she stays, though, the more she likes the people -- and the harder she finds it to move ahead with planned layoffs.
Despite its by-the-numbers plot, I expected to be at least as entertained by New in Town as I was by its trailer, which featured a few mildly charming clips of Zellweger's exploits. Yet the movie itself is surprisingly unsatisfying, failing to deliver much charm or romance and coming up short on laughs.
Right off the top, we get a couple of quick scenes showing Zellweger jogging in Miami, then accepting the task of moving to oversee a local plant's restructuring. Cut to her showing up at the airport. There's little indication of what her life was like in Miami; was she a workaholic? Did she have any friends, pets, or family? Does she hate the cold? This means we have no idea how big a change the move is imposing on her life. Thus the stakes for her, with the exception of securing a promotion, are intangible. Since New in Town fails to establish her day-to-day routine or at least show us why we should care about what happens to her, the twists and turns of the plot have little impact. She's a fish out of water, all right, but we've never seen her swim.
Even once she arrives in New Ulm, Minnesota, the character remains undefined. We get the impression she is supposed to be a razor-sharp businesswoman, skipping rungs on her way up the corporate ladder, yet she inexplicably shows up in Minnesota in wintertime without a jacket; we immediately assume she's a dunce. Later, she crashes her car into a snow bank and hangs a red negligee off her antenna to attract attention. A while later, she's falling-down drunk when her romantic interest shows up on the scene to help her out. We presume she found a bottle of wine in her luggage and decided to pass the time with it, but by not showing this happen (which could've been pretty funny), the scene skips the main joke altogether, satisfied with a couple of pratfalls instead. Again and again, the script gives us payoff without setup, which is a shame because a reasonably good romantic comedy could have come from this mix of actors.
It's a testament to Zellweger's substantial charm that New in Town keeps us hoping for the best, despite evidence to the contrary. She works overtime to sell Lucy's unlikely arc, shifting between bitchy and gracious at the drop of a hat. If nothing else, New in Town proves that, despite the supporting roles in which she usually appears, Zellweger has the chops to carry a picture winningly.
The supporting cast is solid, despite not being given much to work with: You can't go wrong with J.K. Simmons; Harry Connick Jr. makes some interesting choices with his role, and shines during a sequence involving his daughter's first date, but sadly his chemistry with Zellweger could best be described as wanting; and Siobhan Fallon provides an entertaining approximation of a domesticated version of Frances McDormand's character from Fargo.
While the movie may not have turned my crank, at least the technical side of the Blu-ray deliver the goods. The icy cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba, standing in for Minnesota, seems all too real in this 1080p transfer, with a light sprinkling of natural grain in bright areas and an accurate reproduction of the mostly drab color scheme. I noticed no ill effects from DNR, edge enhancement, or overcompression. The audio is spread across a wide soundstage, especially when the music kicks in, although I found it a bit distracting that surround channels often provided a delayed reverb during some songs. Dialogue is clear and crisp.
The disc seems to be packed with special features, but few really add value. The deleted scenes are interesting, a couple of which I would've liked to see back in the picture to round Lucy's character out a bit. The making-of featurette deals almost exclusively with how cold Winnipeg was, which is funny at first but gets a little old after 20 minutes. There are additional bits on scrapbooking and tapioca (two themes in the film), but both are made more of clips from the movie than anything else. There's a BD-Live function that allows you to create some sort of interactive experience of the movie to share with others, but after watching the "Downloading" screen for several minutes I assumed this feature hadn't yet been activated. Finally, a picture-in-picture commentary with the writers and a couple of supporting actors: I love commentaries, but this was one of the first that I've ever been literally annoyed with. Something about the mugging for the camera just rubbed me the wrong way.
There are a few real laughs in New in Town and it's certainly good-natured, but it ultimately feels like a situation in search of a plot. I expected to like this one, but it let me down.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG