Starring: Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jonas Elmer (“Nynne”)
Written by: Ken Rance (debut) and C. Jay Cox (“Sweet Home Alabama”)

Putting a city girl into an unfamiliar environment is probably one of the oldest gags in the screenwriter comedy handbook, so it’s peculiar when someone tries to get away with another version of it so blatantly and without its own personality. But that’s exactly what Danish director Jonas Elmer does with “New in Town,” a movie that’s just as generic as its title.

Put some blame on co-writer C. Jay Cox, who has been down this road before. In 2002’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” he planted a New York socialite played by Reese Witherspoon into the boot-scootin’ South for some sitcom-like scenarios. In “Town,” he and debut screenwriter Ken Rance do the same with Renée Zellweger, this time traveling farther north to give us a dose of banality disguised as a tale of female empowerment.

Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, a Miami businesswoman who has to trade in her high heels for snow boots when she is sent to Minnesota to oversee the restructuring of one of her company’s manufacturing plants. She ends up in New Ulm, a small Minnesotan town where scrapbooking, crow hunting, and watching the Vikings are the only pastimes worth mentioning (Surely the Minnesota Tourism Bureau didn’t sign off on this).

Although she doesn’t want to “get personally attached to the town” since she is only there to supervise the “simple reconfiguration” of the plant, Lucy finds time to spark something up with Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), a local union representative who also happens to be the stereotypical flannel-wearing burly man with a heart of gold that’s sure to sweep naïve Lucy off her frostbitten feet.

As a romantic comedy, “New in Town” is lacking in any chemistry between Zellweger and Connick Jr. They’re attraction for each other is spurred by an evening of sharing sob stories and getting caught making out on the couch. Even worse than the underdeveloped romance between the two leads is Cox and Rance’s generalized view of all things Minnesota. There’s bound to be quite a few intelligent people even in a small town like New Ulm, but the screenwriting duo would have you believe anyone knee-deep in snow – including the waitress named Flo – has the brain capacity of a retarded elk.

Renting 1987’s “Baby Boom” starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard is a better choice if you want a similar plot outline and a love story set in frigid weather. It’s classic, witty, and won’t have you wondering if all Danish-driven rom coms are always this grating.

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