16 December 2009

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


The opening of “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” sets the tone for the entire film.

Simple white titles appear on a black screen. We hear the voice of Hugh Grant as Paul Morgan leaving voice mail messages for his estranged wife, Meryl. Separated for three months, he begs for a chance to see her and talk to her.

Since the movie is ostensibly a romantic comedy, I presume this is meant to be funny, especially when Paul runs out of time on his first message, then calls back and continues. The problem is, I couldn’t picture a desperate husband while I heard this; I saw Grant sitting in a studio, reading from the script.

Everything about the movie feels false, which is surprising since it comes from writer-director Marc Lawrence, a veteran of the genre, having written both “Miss Congeniality” movies, and written and directed “Two weeks Notice” and “Music and Lyrics.” Its stars—Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker—have been here before, too.

Maybe that is the problem. Maybe everyone assumed they could get the job done just by showing up. It’s a lazy effort all around.
Paul and Meryl (Parker) meet for dinner and appear to be inching toward reconciliation when they witness a murder, then get whisked away by U.S. marshals from the hubbub of New York City to the middle of nowhere—i.e. Ray, Wyo.—in the Witness Protection Program.

In Ray, they experience the expected culture shock—shopping at the Bargain Barn, encountering a bear, learning to shoot a rifle and ride horses. Everyone and everything—including the couple that houses the Morgans (now known as the Fosters), Marshal/Sheriff Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott) and his wife, Deputy Emma Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen)—is quaint, folksy and friendly enough to be just on the wrong side of creepy.

Meanwhile, the killer (Michael Kelly) follows their trail to Wyoming and, back in New York, their respective assistants, the weird-beyond-reason Jackie (Elizabeth Moss) and Adam (Jesse Liebman) get to know each other while puzzling over their employers’ sudden disappearance.

The movie lists about from scene to scene, with no mind paid to pacing or rhythm. Characters say and do things because they are in the script and for no other reason. Laughs come sporadically, usually from one of Grant’s quips, though his timing would have benefited from tighter editing. Because the humor falls flat, the dramatic material becomes even more awkward and painful—not in a way that catches you in a spot between laughing and cringing a la “The Office,” but in the sense that it’s a chore to endure.

I wish I could answer “no” to the movie’s title question.

Grade: D-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and momentary violence. 103 minutes.)

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