Rating: 2 out of 5
The American country, as often portrayed in Hollywood movies, seems to be good for only two things: conflicts with murderous savages hidden on the fringe of society (as seen in Deliverance and a whole slew of modern copycats), or limp fish-out-of-water comedies.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? falls into the latter category. Just as Hannah Montana: The Movie took a spoilt city kid into the country and taught her some important life lessons, this film uses a rather weak premise of the witness-protection/relocation programme to thrust two New York urbanites into the wild.
While she is a successful realtor here, instead of a columnist, Sarah Jessica Parker again plays a fashion-conscious, incurable romantic who is a hardcore city mouse. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. But Meryl Morgan (Parker) is nowhere near as playful and fun as Carrie Bradshaw.
There is also little in this mediocre romantic comedy to engender any rooting interest in her relationship with the lawyer husband she’s separating from, Paul (Hugh Grant).
For the umpteenth time, gratingly so, Grant is playing the aw-shucks goofy and nervous Englishman, who wins the girl (and purportedly the audience) over with his little wise-cracks, his inherent goodness and his Anglicisms, such as the “oopsie-daisies” from his turn in Notting Hill.
The bickering Morgans, who apparently had been torn asunder by their inability to conceive and his subsequent infidelity, witness a murder one evening, just as Paul is trying to win Meryl back.
Federal agents step in, whisk the erstwhile couple away to the rural state of Wyoming until they can testify, and until a hired hitman hot on their trail is apprehended.
Surprise surprise, the frost begins to thaw between the Morgans in Wyoming’s prarie lands, under the watchful eyes of their cowboy and cowgirl guardians, Sheriff Clay Wheeler and his deputy wife (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen).
That the laid-back and down-to-earth Wheelers, in their own stereotypical way, are infinitely more engaging than the Morgans tells you something about the faults of this film. With Grant and Parker stuck in their typecast personas, neither comes across as particularly winning.
To make matters worse, this film actually focuses more on the romance than the half-hearted comedy, which means having the main characters moaning about their relationship, and then seeking sage country-honed advice from the Wheelers and an assortment of caricatures.
As written and directed by Marc Lawrence, a frequent Grant collaborator who also wrote and helmed the forgettable Two Weeks Notice (2002) and the flawed-but-entertaining Music and Lyrics (2007), Morgans seems laboured and uninspired from first frame to last.
There is never any fear factor involved with the hired killer who trails the Morgans all the way from the big city to the small town. Nor is there doubt that the Morgans will somehow reconcile and get over their little dilemmas, and that the good townsfolk will keep them from harm and show them the way forward.
As such, if the jokes were at least halfway funny, this film might have been saved. (The bear and horse jokes in the film’s trailer can barely raise a smile.) To their credit, Grant, Parker and Lawrence shy away from low-brow, countryfolk-denigrating humour.
What remains, however, is a diluted mixture of smalltown quirkiness and quiet homely charm, ultimately too little to make this film bear watching in its over-100-minutes running time.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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