If that reliable mecca of information that is Wikipedia is to be believed, the earliest surviving motion picture is dated to the year of 1888. Mathematically speaking, and disregarding any other media of storytelling, it should come as no surprise that someone might construct and release a film in 2009 that features not a single unique aspect to it. New in Town wouldn't be the first film to appear wholly recycled from many that came before it, and I severely doubt it'll be the last, and if it boasted even one iota of charm or humor between its first frames and its last ones, I probably wouldn't mind.

But it didn't, and so I do. Some will argue that film formulas -- specifically, those employed in the genre of rom-coms -- are tantamount to comfort food. Jane Ticketbuyer knows as well as you and I that squinty-eyed climber of the business ladder Renee Zellweger will fight with, and then flirt with, hard-headed widower and single father Harry Connick, Jr. before the lights come up. But thanks to Jonas Elmer's flat direction and Ken Rance and C. Jay Cox's charmless script (really, it took two people to come up with this?), Jane Ticketbuyer has to suffer through Zellweger's alleged professional being unable to check the weather and pack properly before flying from Miami to Minnesota, or to manually start a fire for that matter, and Jane Ticketbuyer also has to endure Connick Jr.'s league of aw-shucks-and-then-some locals, people who scrapbook and ice-fish and apparently can't say a sentence that doesn't feature one of the following words: "betcha," "Jesus," or "tapioca." I wish I were kidding, and I wish a respectable supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons and Frances Conroy had been above such cringe-worthy caricature, or at least could've elevated it to something sensible.

No, Ms. Ticketbuyer, if this passes for comfort food, then this must be off-brand (way-off-brand); if not, then perhaps your taste skews more to lead paint than most, and while I cannot hold your taste against you, I surely can hold it against the filmmakers for hoping that something this tepid and predictable would be worth passing your buck for. Zellweger exudes none of the warmth and winsome behavior that helped raise the first Bridget Jones film to something solid, making it that much harder to buy when her cold, illogical mind gives way to her inevitably thawing heart. Connick Jr. doesn't wind up nearly as embarrassed, settling comfortably into the same role as when he played love interest to Sandra Bullock a decade ago in Hope Floats. Only one scene between the two works beyond mere plot advancement, in which a make-out session is clumsily covered up when his daughter arrives home earlier than expected; as tends to be the case with any two rocks, Zellweger and Connick Jr. are banged together long enough and hard enough that sparks had to crop up at some point. (Maybe Zellweger keeps squinting because she's looking for the chemistry that we rarely get to witness for ourselves.)

Within a month of its release, New in Town was whittled down to a PG, and the remnants of both the primary f-bomb punchline and other absent but relatively useful shots are still shown in the trailer (oh, so THAT's how she found a bottle of alcohol while snowed in to her car!). For a film so suddenly and resolutely set on being marketed as 'wholesome', the removal of that one f-word has left behind a litter of other lesser profanities that stick out sorely in the aftermath (not to mention that a dairy fight between J.K. Simmons and Harry Connick Jr. may not be a safe sight for any eyes). Zellweger, like her character, has an employer with its eyes set on the bottom line, and while this motion picture may ultimately be a matter of business to them, I fail to see where New in Town deserves any of yours.
categories Reviews, Cinematical