New in TownReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/30/09 00:00:00
Are you the kind of person who still thinks that your Marge Gunderson impression is the cutting edge of comedy and is willing to deploy it at the drop of a hat? Are you the kind of person who has long speculated as to what the beloved Bill Forsyth classic “Local Hero” might have been like if it had been made by and for morons? Are you the kind of person who prefers their big-screen romantic comedy entertainment to contain not a single shred of humor, intelligence, creativity or actual chemistry between the leads. If you are, and God help you if that is the case, then you will be overjoyed with “New in Town.” On the other hand, if you stopped offering up variations of “You betcha!” back in 1997, prefer “Local Hero” just as it is and like your romantic comedies to include at least trace amounts of humor, intelligence, creativity and actual chemistry, you will want to steer clear of any theater playing it during what I can only assume will be its brief and desultory run or any video store renting it when it hits DVD in what I can only presume will be the very near feature. There have been a lot of bad romantic comedies that have come along in recent months but this one really takes the cake--it is so condescending, so stupid and so utterly devoid of laughs, charm or recognizable entertainment value that I kept waiting for Kate Hudson to show up at some point to relieve Renee Zellweger of her duties and take over the lead role.Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Zellweger stars as Lucy Hill, a tough-as-nails business type who is on the corporate fast track. Okay, I know I said to stop me but I fear that I have to go on a little longer for this to count as an official review. Anyway, the Miami-based Lucy is sent by her boss to the town of New Ulm, Minnesota, a frigid little butter-saturated burg that brags about being “The Most German Town in America,” in order to supervise the restructuring of one of the company’s plants and to quietly plot out the downsizing that will occur once the restructuring is complete. Inevitably, she gets a frosty reception from most of the plant workers, save for her ever-chipper and tapioca-obsessed secretary (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), and an even-frostier reception from the weather and after a few days of freezing temperatures and hostilities between the salt-of-the-earth yokels and their buzzword-quoting superior, Lucy decides to pack it in and go back to Miami (a decision that, yes, is heralded by the deployment of “Walking on Sunshine” on the soundtrack) but is stymied in her efforts to escape when she swerves to avoid a cow wandering down the snowy and isolated highway and crashes into a snow bank where she will presumably freeze to death.
At this point, I perked up a little bit because I was hoping that it might turn into something along the lines of “Wind Chill,” a nifty little ghost story with Emily Blunt that you should have seen but probably didn’t. Alas, Lucy is found by something even more terrifying than the specters found in that film--namely hunky lunkhead Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), who just happens to be (by my count) a fireman, a snowplower, the local union rep, a single father and the only available man in the state of Minnesota. In developments that will no doubt stun and startle anyone who still has a working interest in the story, it turns out that while the two of them hate each other at first, they eventually find themselves falling for each other, even after she shoots him in a hunting accident. In other shocking developments, Lucy begins to find herself succumbing to the alleged charms of New Ulm and its citizens and begins to try to figure out a way to prevent the layoffs that will cripple the town. In even more shocking developments, Lucy’s original downsizing plans are discovered and everyone in town suddenly turns against her at the exact same time that Lucy is informed that the company is planning on closing the plant entirely. And in one final bit of narrative ingenuity (Spoiler Alert!), Lucy hits upon an idea that just might save both the plant and, ore importantly, her relationship with Ted and tries to rally the people to join together in her plan. Frankly, you can’t really blame the townspeople for doubting her ability to pull this off considering that she has already demonstrated herself stupid enough to a.) arrive in Minnesota in wintertime with nothing more than a windbreaker and b.) not realize that the combination of frigid weather, a thin top and no bra can lead to an embarrassing social faux-pas or two. (That’s right, kids--the film actually stoops to the whole protruding nipple thing for laughs.)
Like “Taken,” which also happens to come out this week, there is not a single element “New in Town” that you have not already seen before in other films. The difference between the two films (well, one of many) is that while “Taken” breathes new life into its collection of action film clichés by injecting them with enough energy and ingenuity to make them seem at least temporarily fresh, “New in Town” is content to merely rehash its collection of familiar moments from any number of fish-out-of-water movies as is in the hopes that you will respond favorably to them once again. Actually, if it were content to serve as a rehash, it would have just been an ordinary run-of-the-mill craptacular but this one seems to go out of its way to be as terrible as it possibly can. Our heroine is a self-absorbed and uninteresting dimwit who eventually flowers into becoming an altruistic and uninteresting dimwit for no other reason than the screenplay calls for it, the townspeople aren’t so much “quirky” and “lovable” as they are “annoying” and “monstrous” and the constant depiction of Minnesota as a no-man’s-land populated entirely by bundled boneheads will come across as incredibly condescending even if you actually believe it to be a no-man’s-land populated entirely by bundled boneheads. Most infuriatingly, having spent nearly three quarters of its running time encouraging viewers to laugh lustily at Minnesotans for such crimes against hipness as being polite, worshipping Jesus and eating meat loaf, it then has the sheer effrontery to included a scene in which our heroine (and those of us in the audience by extension) is excoriated for doing just that in an incredibly lame bid for our sympathy. Now I am the kind of person who gives thanks every day that I wasn’t born in Minnesota but after that scene, even I wanted to slap the movie around for a while.
As far as I can recall, I laughed exactly once during the entire film and while it was admittedly inadvertent, it does serve as a good example as to why the film doesn’t work. In the moment in question, the lameness and terminal uncoolness of the people of Minnesota is underscored when Lucy’s secretary invites her to dinner and, horror of horrors, has the audacity to serve something as anti-trendy as meatloaf. Now the reason that I laughed at this particular moment is that just before seeing “New in Town,” I happened to be watching another film in which we are invited to laugh at the idea of a well-meaning but dopey Midwestern family trying to make an outsider, a minor league baseball player fresh from the Dominican Republic in this case, feel at home via a plate of homely meat loaf. In the other movie, the joke works because the filmmakers use it a stepping-off point for a droll little sequence in which the various family members earnestly discuss whether such a thing might come across as too exotic for their guest while he is sitting there desperately trying to understand what they could possibly be talking about. In “New in Town,” however, the filmmakers are laboring under the impression that meat loaf is so intrinsically laughable in and of itself that all they have to do is simply show it and people will be rolling in the aisles over the very notion that someone, even a fictional character, would voluntarily make and serve meat loaf. The fact that there is nothing inherently funny about meat loaf (as anyone who ever saw “Roadie” will attest) does not seem to have occurred to them at all and as a result, the scene, like so many others, just kind of dies.
Almost as disastrous as the lack of humor on display in “New in Town” is the complete lack of romantic chemistry between Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. These are two reasonably engaging performers who have demonstrated plenty of charm in past roles but you wouldn’t have any idea that could be possible based on their work here. Zellweger pulls out all of her regular tricks--the adorably scrunched-up face, the adorable pout, the feistiness and adorable pratfalls--in an effort to make us think of her character as an American version of Bridget Jones but all she does is come across as forced, unfunny and unlikable as that Bridget Jones sequel that most everyone tries to forget was ever made. As for Connick, he further dilutes any chance of romance by going through the entire movie looking and acting like Jack Torrance after about a month at the Overlook Hotel. Even when Connick actually played a deranged serial killer in “Copycat,” he didn’t come across nearly as creepy as he does here with his unshaven mug and bizarre leer. I may not know very much about romance but I do know that if you are trying to make a movie whose success depends to a large degree on one’s desire to see the two stars living happily ever after, it doesn’t help matters much when you are convinced in virtually every scene in which they appear together that the guy is about to cut the girl’s throat with a broken bottle just for kicks.While watching “New in Town,” one question kept popping into my mind--why would the good people of Minnesota allow a film that does nothing but make fun of them to shoot there in the first place. They may be a relatively low-key and affable people who are, for the most part, hard to rile but I would like to think that if they had any idea that a Hollywood movie was portraying them as a group of Spam-eating dopes, they would rise into one well-fed and well-insulated mass against the interlopers and sink them at the bottom of the deepest available lake. Then I stuck around for the end credits and discovered that the film didn’t shoot in Minnesota at all--the filming was done almost entirely in Winnipeg. In other words, “New in Town” is a film that wants to mock the good people of Minnesota but doesn’t even have the stones to do it in their country, let alone their state. Now if you are in the mood to see a good movie this weekend that was made in Minnesota, may I suggest that you take a look at “Fargo” or “Purple Rain” or even “Mallrats” instead. On the other hand, if you are looking for a superior piece of Winnipeg-based entertainment, you would be much better off trying to track down the DVD of “Ledgeman: The Complete Series.”
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