Nothing novel about 'New in Town'

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Good people of Minnesota: Stand up! Fight back! Take back your state and your culture and your accent!

Because if you don't, movies like "New in Town" will continue to blow through and tear things up at your expense, allegedly in the name of comedy.

This soggy fish-out-of-water slog, starring Renee Zellweger as a Miami executive forced to move to tiny New Ulm, Minn., is chock full of stereotypically folksy folks, people whose conversations are peppered with plenty of "Oh, yas" and "You betchas." All the women like scrapbooking and all the men like ice fishing. All of them. (J.K. Simmons and Frances Conroy are among the character actors whose talents go to waste in thankless supporting roles.)

The only vaguely funny bit comes when Zellweger's Lucy Hill spouts a litany of business jargon while awkwardly trying to make nice with the locals over a few beers, and they turn it into a drinking game. Having said that, the word "tapioca" is milked for its supposed laugh potential so frequently, it could be a drinking game itself — and it's not particularly amusing the first time.

Even if it had tried to capitalize on the popularity of "Fargo" and come out more than a decade ago, it still wouldn't have been remotely funny. Not only is the parody far from fresh, it doesn't reveal any worthwhile insight. The generic title alone should indicate how utterly bereft of creativity "New in Town" truly is.

Lucy, who's climbing the ladder at a snack food corporation, is assigned to one of its factories in the frigid north with the ultimate task of shutting it down. But before she sets a single foot on the ice in one of her myriad pairs of stiletto heels, you know how this is going to turn out.

She just might end up liking the place and its people, including her nosy but well-intentioned secretary, played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan in an array of hideously ornate sweaters. Maybe she'll even find a way to keep the factory running. And you know the second she clashes with blue-collar union rep Ted (a low-key Harry Connick Jr.) that the two will eventually fall for each other — even though, as she very literally and forcefully states at the start, "I'm here to do a job, not make friends."

Along the way, Lucy crashes her car to avoid hitting some livestock, falls face-first into a snow bank and drunkenly tumbles off her front porch. She struggles to extricate herself from a jumpsuit to urinate in the woods during a hunting trip, because bodily functions are so edgy. Clearly, Zellweger is up for the challenges of slapstick humor (see: Bridget Jones) but she gets nothing clever or light to work with here, and with her severe bob haircut and the harsh way she's shot, all the forces conspire against her to turn Lucy into an irreparably unappealing character.

Of course the script from Minneapolis native Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox ("Sweet Home Alabama") is overly familiar and formulaic, as so many are — it's the flat, hokey, one-note way Danish director Jonas Elmer gets us there that's so depressing.

Big cities are bad! Small towns are good! The End. Roll credits. Yer darn tootin'.

"New in Town," a Lionsgate release, is rated PG for language and some suggestive material. Running time: 96 minutes. Zero stars out of four.


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