Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant star in the romantic comedy. (Columbia TriStar )
So here's a question for the Feds, whose famed witness protection program takes care of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, the couple on the edge of divorce in the (note the use of ironic quote marks) " romantic comedy" "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" What about the rest of us? We could have used some protection here too.
Grant has never been less charming and Parker never less fashionable or more grating than they are as Paul and Meryl Morgan, a hot-shot Manhattan couple split apart by Paul's one-nighter in L.A. I've got news for them -- infidelity is the least of their problems.
What we allegedly have here is both a fish-out-of-water tale and a romantic comedy -- a kind of two-fer from writer-director Marc Lawrence. As to the romance half of the equation, the "Will they get together?" has been changed to "Will they get back together?," which could have been fun. Ah, if wishes were horses. . . .
Speaking of horses, the fish part, which flops miserably, is their time in Ray, Wyo., where just about everyone rides those four-legged critters, drives trucks and carries loaded rifles they fire off a lot. In case Mary Steenburgen's obsession with guns -- she's Emma, the sheriff's plucky wife -- doesn't have you thinking Sarah Palin, there's a truly leaden line that should clear it up.
Paul and Meryl have been whisked to Wyoming because they were the sole witnesses to a murder by a professional hit man who wears a skullcap against the cold, but apparently never considered that a ski mask might have served his client's interests better.
Whatever clichés can be found in the Morgans' New York lifestyle -- the stressed texting assistants who shadow them, the scheduling nightmare of setting up a reconciliation dinner, their infertility issues -- they only get worse in Ray.
The best moments come thanks to Sam Elliott as Sheriff Clay Wheeler. He does so much with his handful of bad lines, that coupled with his brief turn in "Up in the Air" it makes you wish some enterprising filmmaker out there would put him smack dab in the middle of a movie.
Unfortunately there are no good lines for the troubled couple. Grant's whole awkward, apologetic shtick that was charming back in the day is as difficult to write as it is for Grant to pull off, and neither writer nor actor comes close here. Parker is kept in a perpetual state of wistfulness and disappointment so cloying that you start feeling truly sorry for her spouse.
In the meantime, we are treated to some of the most shameless denigration of small-town American life to be found as the Morgans suffer a simple life where no cable makes for good neighbors. There is all the predictable rural stuff -- a scary bear encounter, a bingo game (guess who wins), a lot of stars in the sky (who knew?) and more deer heads on a living room wall than you can count -- as the story's view of the heartland drifts from sentimental to mawkish.
Really, the only evidence that anyone in Ray has had any contact with the outside world is Lucy (Gracie Bea Lawrence), the young "American Idol" wannabe.
For what finally happens to the Morgans, if you're curious, you'll have to go see for yourself. Just keep in mind that curiosity killed the cat -- even the folks in Ray know that.