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(2009) (Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: After witnessing a murder, a recently separated couple are put into the witness relocation program and moved from New York City to Wyoming where they must not only put up with each other, but also small town, rural life.
Paul (HUGH GRANT) and Meryl Morgan (SARAH JESSICA PARKER) are so successful in their careers in New York City -- he's a lawyer while she runs her own real estate firm -- that they require personal assistants -- Adam (JESSE LIEBMAN) for him and Jackie (ELISABETH MOSS) for her -- just to make it through the day. Yet, they've now been separated for three months due to him cheating on her, a mistake for which he wants to make amends.

While out for the evening, they happen to witness a murder committed by Vincent (MICHAEL KELLY), a hitman working for an international arms dealer. The Feds realize the couple will likely now be targets themselves, and thus put them into the witness relocation program, eventually depositing them just outside a small town in Wyoming.

There, and with new last names, they end up staying with U.S. Marshal and local sheriff Clay Wheeler (SAM ELLIOT) along with his gun-toting wife, Emma (MARY STEENBURGEN), with Meryl pretending to be Clay's cousin from Chicago. As they get used to the remote living -- including the presence of grizzly bears -- and small town life -- where Doc Simmons (DAVID CALL) and Nurse Kelly (KIM SHAW) are the only medical practitioners and the owner of the lone restaurant, Earl Granger (WILFORD BRIMLEY), has already indoctrinated his granddaughter, Lucy (GRACIE BEA LAWRENCE), into being suspicious of big city folk -- the Morgans must also contend with being stuck together.

As they await their new, separate relocations, their relationship continues to change, all as Vincent tries to figure out where they've been sent, find them, and put an end to their lives as protected witnesses.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Considering how Hollywood enjoys deploying the fish out of water scenario for films of various genres -- but mostly comedies where it most naturally fits -- it's surprising more pics don't stem from plots dealing with people under witness protection programs. In fact, without doing any sort of research, the only such film that immediately comes to mind is 1990's "My Blue Heaven" with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis.

Then again, maybe it's because real-life witness protection issues aren't particularly funny as they either involve criminals who turn state's evidence, or innocent people who've seen something bad and are now the targets of the bad guys who want to silence them. Whatever the case, the witness protection "comedy" "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" isn't going to change anyone's perception about the subject matter being humorous.

And that's for two reasons, one being that it's more of a dramedy (with a greater emphasis on the first part of that hyphenation than the latter) than straight out whacky comedy as the previews suggest. The other is that it simply isn't funny, regardless of the subject matter. In fact, it's painfully unfunny to the point that you'll likely want to get up and leave the theater or turn it off once it's on home video.

Of course, those who enjoy watching lead performers Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker do their normal, stereotypical character shtick over and over again could be in hog heaven as the film plays like a highlight reel of their past performances (with co-stars Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen, while not as familiar to most of the general public, pretty much falling into the same trap).

Granted, they don't get much help from writer/director Marc Lawrence ("Music and Lyrics," "Two Weeks Notice") who unsuccessfully tries to combine the fish out of water comedy elements (classic New Yorkers now stuck in small town Wyoming -- hilarity ensues!) with the drama of a separated couple trying to work through their relationship (the somewhat similarly themed "It's Complicated" does it so much better and smarter) and the action/suspense of the hitman (Michael Kelly) trying to track down the titular couple and adorn them with a few noggin-piercing projectiles.

Throw in the subplot of the young and harried personal assistants (Elisabeth Moss and Jesse Liebman) having to work together after their bosses mysteriously disappear, and the film certainly can't be faulted for not having enough elements with which to work. Unfortunately, none of that material succeeds on its own or in combination with any other part, resulting in a mostly excruciatingly painful offering through which one shouldn't have to sit.

It certainly doesn't help that Lawrence trots out just about every stereotype of both sides of the cultural fence. The big city lawyer and real estate agent end up going through withdrawal from their PDAs, high fashion, good restaurants and thousands of TV channels. In place of that, they get to experience gun-toting locals, wood chopping, milking cows, rodeos and yes, even bingo where, surprise-surprise, they actually win.

My favorite part of that particular scene was the inclusion of "Saturday Night," the 1975 hit by The Bay City Rollers. It isn't clear if that was playing over the PA system (since, you know, small town America is still stuck in the past) or if perhaps I was hallucinating at the moment out of sheer boredom and/or mental torture, but the choice of songs that play throughout the film is both bizarrely eclectic and ham-fisted in terms of highlighting the particular emotion or plot point in the story.

Simply put, subtlety isn't one of the film's strong points, but then again it doesn't really possess anything that qualifies for that sort of positive descriptor, so at least it's consistent in such regards. Which also holds true for it being uniformly bad, be that as a comedy, dramedy, relationship story, occasional action pic or any combination thereof.

With only a smattering of occasionally amusing one-liners, "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" is for diehard Grant and/or Parker fans, but even they may tire of the recycled performances and tired script. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed December 14, 2009 / Posted December 18, 2009

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