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New in Town

New in Town

Rated PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Jonas Elmer. Starring Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., Siobhan Fallon, J.K. Simmons, Mike O'Brien, Frances Conroy.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 30, 2009

What the hell is going on with Renée Zellweger? She's always been a polarizing actress, but even longtime fans of her sparkiness and, well, barkiness in films such as Cold Mountain, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Doris-Day channeler Down With Love can't help but be befuddled by her recent choices (including this month's Golden Globes getup, in which she channeled Day once again, only the latter-era, frosted and feathered kind). Hollywood can be unforgiving, especially about its aging actresses; if Zellweger is going to make a case for her continued relevance in a town that tosses its former sweethearts to the dustbin by age 40, then she'll have to pick smarter projects than New in Town. It's a fish-out-of-water comedy formerly known as Chilled in Miami – one of several interesting facts related in a recent New Yorker piece by Tad Friend about movie marketing. The article also poses the age-old question: How do you market a piece of crap? The answer, as ever, is to dress up said crap as something else – in this case, something funny, something sexy, something about the life lessons imparted on a stumbling exec in 4-inch heels (Zellweger) when she arrives in small-town Minnesota to shake up its underproducing factory. It pains me to report that the film – which has a likable enough cast of character actors such as Simmons (Spider-Man) and Conroy (Six Feet Under) and a sufficient leading man in the still-easy-on-the-eyes Connick Jr. – wildly underperforms under the trailer's already low-set expectations: It is not particularly funny or sexy, and those life lessons have little to do with the aggressive folk wisdom of the people of New Ulm, Minn., but rather what happens when a total bitch wakes up and realizes there are human costs to corporate dealings. New in Town might have better played on the less demanding stage of, say, a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, where Elmer's muzzy direction and a script (by C. Jay Cox and Ken Rance) pockmarked with implausibilities would feel slightly less consequential. Still, forgettable films make it to the big screen all the time; what is more rare is a forgettable film about a character written and portrayed so stridently as to be both an irritant and a bore. That character's name, by the way, is Lucy, a fact only recalled after consulting the studio's press notes. Which is telling and may well be New in Town's only real distinction: to have the ability to verily disappear before one's eyes.
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