This frozen, fish-out-of-water flick works

As stereotypes go, Minnesotans don’t have it so bad.

It’s the accents, donchaknow. And the ice fishing, polka dancing, hockey playing, Jesus loving, beer-and-a-bump drinking to get through finger-freezing winters that are funny to the rest of us, especially those of us who have lived among them.

Minnesoooooota is always going to be the perfect setting for a frozen “fish out of water” romantic comedy, which is a big reason why “New in Town,” the first genuinely funny film of 2009, works.

It’s a formula as old as the hills, older than “Doc Hollywood,” “The Coca-Cola Kid” or even “The Andy Griffith Show.” Send a cynical Miami city slicker (Renee Zellweger) to take over a dairy products plant in New Ulm, Minn., and lay off half its work force. Hurl her against stubborn employees (J.K. Simmons) and chummy, too-helpful ladies who scrapbook (Siobhan Fallon).

“Are you a scrapper?”

Let her make the worst possible impression with the hunky local “Bud-drinking redneck with a pickup” (Harry Connick Jr.). And let the chips fall where they may, where they always may.

Zellweger is a nice blend of brittle corporate and lonely career woman. (It’s implied that she had a messy breakup with another company honcho.) Her reaction on leaving the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport after flying in from Miami is one anybody who’s visited the Frozen North will recognize. It involves a howling wind, “white out” — and we don’t mean the goo that you dab onto typos — and profanity.

Lucy Hill’s first order of business in New Ulm is to come up with a “termination list.” But in a part of the world where any number of mistakes can let you freeze to death (“Nature’s way of thinning the herd”), no woman is an island. Lucy starts to warm to the place, to the way of talking.

The movie’s “downsizing” and corporate callousness make it timely, the dialogue is funny enough (a few more zingers might’ve been nice, writers) and the predictable happens in a predictably warm way. Zellweger and Connick make a believable couple and one with real oil-and-water-don’t-mix sparks. This is what romantic chemistry looks like.

Formula’s just another word for “recipe,” and this one has just the right home-cooked ingredients.


New in Town


Rated PG for language and some suggestive material

Opening Friday: Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, Hollywood 20, Oakmont 8, Royal Palm 20, Sarasota 12