Review: There's Nothing Really New About New in Town

"Zipper mishaps, tipsy topples, nipple gags ..."


The trailer's cheery affirmation that New in Town is "Legally Blonde meets Sweet Home Alabama" isn't exactly what I'd consider an enticing movie advertisement (mainly due to the second half of the statement). Then again, perhaps it was a warning.

Either way, it's a fairly accurate formula, though you could easily substitute other opposites-attract romances into the equation with similar results. Say ... Australia or the video for Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. Though in this case uptown is corporate Miami and downtown is blue-collar Minnesota.

Executive-on-the-rise Lucy Hall (Renee Zellweger) gets things done, despite the handicap of 6-inch heels and mermaid-skin-tight skirts that cripple her movements to a Mrs. Wiggins waddle. (Was the last corporation Lucy worked for run by Hugh Hefner?) Plus, she's not exactly popular with the boys in the office. So when the company needs someone to oversee the restructuring of a manufacturing plant, they ship Lucy off -- to New Ulm, Minnesota.

Then when Bridget Jones arrives in Fargo, in addition to factory mechanization she has to manage subzero temps and a smorgasbord of tapioca, snicker doodles, and Swedish shtick -- "Don't ya know? Ya, I do, ya. You betcha!" Another more palatable obstacle hindering her climb up the corporate ladder is beer-drooling, yet ruggedly dashing union leader Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.). When the two forces collide, rom-com sparks fly.

Danish Director Jonas Elmer relies heavily on physical humor à la Peter Sellers and the The Three Stooges for giggles -- zipper mishaps, tipsy topples, Cheney-esque accidents, nipple gags -- along with an always-on cast of Jesus-lovin' Minnesota folk. With the most stand-out Swedes being secretary Blanche Gunderson (Baby Mama birthing teacher Siobhan Fallon Hogan) and foreman Stu Kopenhafer (a.k.a. The Closer's J.K. Simmons). Both bring a breath of fresh air, genuine delivery, and dimension to nearly one-note Nordic caricatures.

Meanwhile, Zellweger's comic moves are often too stiff, too cliché to amuse, just like Lucy's tightly wound, stick-up-her-apple-bottom attitude and accompanying strut about the boardroom, the factory floor, etc. (Could this wardrobe tautness have been owed to too much tapioca?) Judging by past films, Zellweger is most hilarious when she's unaffected. Not the case in this role. On the other hand, she naturally nails all of Hall's slapstick tumbles with Pink Panther precision and Carol Burnett flair (both of whose techniques she reportedly explored in her acting prep). Harry Connick Jr. plays, as usual, himself. Or the same screen-self we've seen before: a hunky hero with a healthy dose of down-to-earth charm.

New in Town has its chuckle-erupting kooky moments but when the credits finally roll, it isn't quite new or funny enough to be a four-star comedy. (More like two and a half.) Not that formulaic romance films are necessarily a bad thing -- Scarlett and Rhett, Rose and Jack, Harry and Sally, Ted and Mary -- when they're served with enough unique personality and panache. Then again, if an easily recognizable story with even more recognizable stars is what you both expect and desire from a movie with an amorous sense of humor, and the thought of a merger between Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama makes you want to run to the theater (rather than leap off a building), then New in Town might be a film you'd want to meet.

Grade: C+