New in Town

Look, movie, if you’re not even going to TRY to entertain me, why should I put forth any effort in reviewing you?

Yeah, I’m talking to you, “New in Town.” You have Renee Zellweger as a brittle, icy corporate honcho named Lucy who goes to a tiny Minnesota town to 1) look down her nose at the provincial townsfolk and 2) downsize the factory that keeps the town alive. In the grand tradition of awful romantic comedies everywhere, Lucy clashes with a crass local named Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), only to discover he’s the union rep she’ll have to work with on a regular basis!!!!!! Do you think they’ll eventually fall in love???

In the meantime, Lucy makes no attempt whatsoever to fit in with the locals, who are portrayed as well-meaning but bumbling Jesus freaks with quaint hobbies and exaggerated Minnesota accents. These include Lucy’s secretary, Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), who is obsessed with her secret tapioca recipe; and Stu Kopenhafer (J.K. Simmons), the plant foreman who loves to hunt. Later, movie, you chastise Lucy — and, by extension, us — for not taking these people seriously, even though YOU’RE the one who set them up as objects of ridicule.

For her part, Lucy — and you get a lot of mileage out of this, movie — seems to be unfamiliar with even the IDEA of cold weather. She is surprised to find, when she gets off the plane, that a short skirt is inappropriate garb for Minnesota in October. She cannot fathom wearing any shoes other than high heels wherever she goes. When introduced to her new house, she insists she doesn’t need help with the fireplace. “I’m a city girl, but I know how to light a fire. Where’s the switch?” Get it?? She thinks fireplaces are always lit with a switch on the wall! She thinks this because apparently she’s FUNCTIONALLY RETARDED.

Frankly, movie, I’m shocked that you thought you were ready for public viewing. Your screenplay, written by first-timer Ken Rance and “Sweet Home Alabama” scribe C. Jay Cox, does not have a legitimate laugh anywhere in its dialogue. It reads like an outline, not a real script, with only perfunctory attention paid to the major plot points. Most critically, Lucy comes to love the little town (we’ve seen the countless other films exactly like this one, so we know where it’s going), yet you skip all the scenes that would have shown us WHY she loves it. You checked off all the clichés, yet you failed to fill in the details.

Moreover, movie, you have a screwed-up sense of time. One scene mentions it being the first Friday of November; the next scene has Lucy trying to get back to Miami for Thanksgiving — and yet nothing has happened to the characters during those three weeks in between. After her flight is canceled due to weather, Lucy gets stuck in the snow, necessitating a rescue by Ted. Then, just after New Year’s, Lucy tells him, “I never had a chance to clear the air after you rescued me” — even though that was Thanksgiving, six weeks ago, and they must have seen each other multiple times since then, considering they work together.

I understand that romantic comedies and fish-out-of-water comedies and save-the-small-town comedies follow certain formulas. Did you not think, however, that perhaps you should put a little oomph into it? Jazz up the dialogue, maybe? Create one or two genuinely interesting characters? You have done nothing. You have exerted yourself so little that I’m not sure your cast and crew even deserve to be paid. You’re the kind of movie someone would make if they put off their weekend movie-making homework until Sunday night.

Your director is a Danish fellow named Jonas Elmer, whose 2005 comedy, “Nynne,” has been dubbed the Danish “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” I don’t know what to say about that, except that I would probably laugh more at an un-subtitled version of a foreign-language comedy than I did at you, “New in Town.” You’re a shallow, dim-witted movie, and I wash my hands of you.

F (1 hr., 36 min.; PG, a little profanity, some sexual innuendo.)