Friday, September 04, 2009

The Cheap Critic: New in Town


As a general rule, when you find a film you have never heard of that features actors and/or a director or screenwriter of whom you have heard, you have found yourself a stinkeroo. The film New in Town -- with Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. as the leads, and with J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in Spiderman) in a supporting role -- is a case in point. It was released early this year; I don't remember a theatrical run for it and I think the studio may have decided to cut their losses and go straight to video.


As with most films that don't quite work there are parts that are perfectly OK. The acting is fine, for instance -- Zellweger does a good to very good job, Connick is a bit better than OK, and the rest of the cast labor through the script with admirable stoicism that more-or-less works for the mid-winter Minnesota setting. The basic storyline is brutally formulaic but no more so that any number of other romantic comedies; the typical chick-flick doesn't need M. Night Shyamalan-style twists and turns. And the film simply drips with heartwarming niceness and, God knows, we can use more of that in the cinema these days.

If I had to put my finger on the problem I would say that the film's Danish director (Jonas Elmer) hasn't quite got the American sense of humor down pat. He finds a few genuinely funny bits -- rural Minnesotans talk funny and a Miami city girl might be surprised by how cold it gets in the winter -- and he proceeds to pummel us with them endlessly. After about forty minutes one arrives at Yes, yes. That's funny. I get it. Ha. Ha. Do you have another joke?

He is equally ham-handed with the thematic material. Zellweger, you see, is an executive sent to re-tool and downsize the plant that provides the main source of revenue for the town. Her romantic interest, Connick, is the local labor union representative. The get off to a bad start but, as the formula demands, they come around in the end. The management-labor relations theme was laid on thickly. There were times I was reminded of Fritz Lang's Metorpolis -- The HEART must be the MEDIATOR between the HEAD and the HAND. When the semi-evil management team comes up from Miami to confront their now-wayward colleague I half-expected the a robotrix to emerge from the black limos to replace her.

In fairness, I should say that it is a likable movie -- if you really, really try to like it. But you have to put on your Pollyanna dress, sit very still and will yourself to enjoy it. It can be done.