Dir Jonas Elmer. US. 2009. 96 mins
New In Town sees Renee Zellweger returning to the genre which, in the Bridget Jones films, has given her two of her biggest worldwide hits. But there's nothing in this run of the mill romantic-comedy - co-starring Harry Connick Jr and marking the English-language debut of Danish director Jonas Elmer - to suggest another big box office haul. A more likely fate for the Gold Circle/Lionsgate project (originally known as Chilled in Miami) is a relatively brief theatrical life followed, perhaps, by a decent performance in ancillary markets.
In the US - where it opens (with a PG rating) through Lionsgate on January 30, only a week before the launch of rom-com rival He's Just Not That Into You - the film will test the level of Zellweger's mainstream appeal after her recent run of more specialised projects.
In the international marketplace - where Lionsgate's Mandate handled sales to independent distributors - box office prospects may be slightly better, thanks to the overwhelmingly international popularity of both Bridget Jones movies.
Introduced jogging with steely determination along the Miami shoreline, Zellweger's Lucy Hill is a food company executive with a taste for fancy clothes and fast cars and a burning ambition to climb the corporate ladder. Sensing a promotion in the offing, Lucy agrees to relocate temporarily to a small Minnesota town to handle the downsizing of the company's manufacturing plant there.
In the frozen north Lucy has to deal with some brutal weather and the eccentric - and sometimes suspicious - locals. She also crosses paths with Ted Mitchell (Connick Jr), the dishy but grumpy union representative trying to save the jobs of his neighbours.
What follows has the comforting predictability that many rom-coms share. The problem here, though, is that screenwriters Kenneth Rance (with his first produced feature) and C Jay Cox (who wrote the somewhat similar 2002 rom-com Sweet Home Alabama) don't sell the story very convincingly. Lucy is won over by the locals far too easily and falls into Ted's arms after only a couple of scenes of not very witty bickering.
Elmer, best known for 2001's Monas Verden and 2005's 'Danish Bridget Jones' comedy Nynne, seems initially to be aiming for a wry, Scandinavian comic tone (which would have been appropriate given the Nordic roots and accents of many Minnesotans). But that effort is stymied by the script's preference for broad visual and verbal gags about city slickers, Midwestern rubes - most of the locals come across like they're auditioning for Fargo - and the effects of the Minnesota cold.
There's very little attempt at dramatic realism but the film's preference for community over corporate values and the plot thread about threatened job losses might provide a small extra selling point in the current financial climate.
Returning to headlining comedy, after a couple of animation voice roles and dramas such as Appaloosa, Miss Potter and Cinderella Man, Zellweger is warm and watchable, but she doesn't throw herself into the role quite as enthusiastically as she did in her Bridget Jones guise.
Connick Jr acts and looks as cool and charming as ever, though a more adventurous casting decision might have given the film more spark.
The supporting roles are mostly one-dimensional, but Siobhan Fallon Hogan (from Baby Mama and Dogville) has some fun as Lucy's personal assistant and matchmaker Blanche Gunderson.
Gold Circle Films
Kenneth Rance and C Jay Cox
Harry Connick Jr
J K Simmons
Siobhan Fallon Hogan