02/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: New in Town

If Frank Capra were to make a movie today, it would probably look a lot like New in Town.

Of course, Frank Capra is dead. Then again, so is this movie.

Certainly, you can feel the creative team behind this film desperately trying to channel Capra, in a desperate, voodoo sort of way. They've even got the economy on their side, with its brutalizing effect on the working class -- to parallel Capra's Depression-era classics.

On the surface, the elements are there: It's a comedy set during an economic downturn, about a corporate shark who discovers she has a heart just when she's assigned to downsize a factory in a rural Minnesota town.

But the script by Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox feels as though it was written by computer software programmed with joke algorithms. There's no actual sense of humor at work. Jonas Elmer directs as though English is his second language -- oh, wait, it is.

Renee Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, an overachieving executive at a dairy conglomerate based in Miami (ahhhh, Florida: Dairyland of the Caribbean). To further her career, she agrees to take the assignment to go to the company's yogurt factory in New Ulm, Minn., in the dead of winter to downsize half the workforce and repurpose the plant to make protein power bars.

Many mirthless moments ensue, most devoted to her lack of preparation for the Minnesota winter; the cultural disconnect between her corporate-speak fembot mentality and the plain-folks workers; and, of course, the confusion of a progressive city girl plunked down in the sticks.

All of the Minnesota characters speak as though they're doing comedy-improv scenes playing characters from Fargo -- minus the comedy, doncha know? The sole exception to the accent onslaught is Harry Connick Jr., as the local union rep, whose drawl is explained by -- well, it's not important because the explanation is neither interesting nor funny. He's a widower, which makes him the romantic interest -- right after he moves past being Zellweger's nemesis.

Zellweger is a capable comedian -- but she's incapable of turning this dross into serviceable material. Neither, for that matter, can such reliable comic performers as JK Simmons and Siobhan Fallon Hogan.

Put it this way: This movie's ace in the hole are its many, many jokes about a secret tapioca recipe. I doubt they'd laugh at that even in New Ulm.

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