News isn't good for 'About the Morgans'

Did you hear about the Morgans? If so, you might wish you hadn't.

This bland fish-out-of-water comedy is unremarkable in every aspect, unless you're one of them thar city slickers who thinks the idea that Sarah Jessica Parker trading in her Jimmy Choos for a pair of cowboy boots amounts to an act of cultural treason.

“Did You Hear About the Morgans” comes from writer-director Marc Lawrence, creator of two perfectly pleasant comedies from Decembers of yore — “Miss Congeniality” and “Two Weeks Notice.”

Studio heads are superstitious about these things, so it's no coincidence that “Morgans” arrives at precisely the same time of year as Lawrence's other box-office triumphs. Sadly, Lawrence forgot to pack the laughs this time around.

Parker and Hugh Grant play the titular Morgans, a high-powered Manhattan couple whose marriage took a hit when Paul cheated on Meryl. Paul professes bitter regret, but Meryl can't bring herself to start over and love Paul “just a little.”

Paul does manage to wheedle one dinner date, but their evening ends, as so many Manhattan nights do, with a dead body falling from a terrace.

Since the man responsible for the dead body saw the Morgans and the murder somehow involves an international arms dealer (don't ask), the Feds put the Morgans into witness relocation and ship them to a hole-in-the-wall town in Wyoming.

There, they bunk with the local marshal (Sam Elliott) and his gun-loving, wood-chopping deputy wife (Mary Steenburgen). Faster than you can hum the theme to “Green Acres,” you've got a clash of cultures to add to the already established spousal tiff.

And that's just too much fighting. Lawrence usually comes up with a decent hook upon which to hang his laugh track, but he gets in his own way here by having Parker spend most of her time playing the wounded victim. Parker can mope with the best of them, but her strength is playing kicky and kooky. There are times here when the actress seems even more dispirited than her character.

As for Grant, you can usually tell how desperate he feels about the material by how fast he's fluttering his eyelids. In “Morgans,” he's batting them so furiously, it looks like he's trying to achieve liftoff. It would have been a more interesting movie if he did.

Instead, we have roaming grizzly bears and the inevitable, eye-stinging encounters with grizzly bear repellent, soul-crushing confrontations with Wilford Brimley's mustache (best not ask him to stub out his cigarette), a rote (not rogue) Sarah Palin joke and the overall wistfulness that comes when you find yourself actually thinking they just don't make movies like “Doc Hollywood” anymore.

When, at one point, Parker tells Steenburgen that she belongs to PETA, the meat-loving Steenburgen counters: “Me, too. People For Eating Tasty Animals.”

Oh, you've heard about the Morgans. Whether you realize it or not.

“Did You Hear About the Morgans?”, a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and momentary violence. Running time: 103 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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