The past few months have given us Kate Hudson as a domineering legal barracuda with power bangs (Bride Wars), Meg Ryan as a hard-charging, cynical movie executive (The Deal on DVD), and now adorable Renée Zellweger as a ruthlessly ambitious junior achiever coldly maneuvering her way up the corporate ladder in the perfectly mediocre new comedy-drama New In Town. Carol Kane may achieve her life's dream of playing Leni Riefenstahl yet. Co-written by Sweet Home Alabama's C. Jay Cox, New In Town grinds its plucky protagonist through a predictable arc from dispassionate big-city ice queen to redeemed small-town tenderheart, but the casting department does much of the script's work for it, since Zellweger always seems more comfortable mixing with jes' plain folk than barking buzzwords while tottering around in heels and scandalously tight business suits.
A miscast Zellweger plays an ambitious Miami career gal dispatched by the soulless suits at Corporate to the frozen wastelands of Minnesota on a cost-cutting mission to downsize the denizens of a creaky, old-fashioned factory run by heavily bearded, Santa-bellied crank J.K. Simmons. Zellweger initially expresses cosmopolitan disdain for her backwater surroundings and country-fried labor liaison Harry Connick Jr., but gosh dangit if the town's Midwestern hospitality and unpretentious ways don't melt her frigid heart.
After labored early setpieces involving Zellweger's embarrassingly conspicuous hard nipples at a dinner party and clumsy attempts to urinate while wearing a cumbersome snowsuit, New In Town pretty much stops trying to glean laughs from its fish-out-of-water conceit and plays its redemption-through-simple-living story straight. The filmmakers aren't shy about telegraphing Zellweger's realization about what truly matters in life via a montage of her reflecting back on the many smiles and/or magical moments she shared with ruggedly handsome single father/fireman/widower/union bigwig/facial-hair proponent Connick. There's something soothing, even narcotizing, about the film's message that even the most dire economic catastrophe is no match for gumption, togetherness, and a tasty local recipe, but even pandering fairy tales about the innate decency of common people should have at least a fuzzy basis in reality.