Science has been, for years, getting us closer and closer to one of the grislier prospects of a brave new future: Harvested meat. Advances in genetic engineering, we're told, mean that soon we'll be able to grow steaks and chops and cutlets as huge independent slabs of flesh, separate from an actual surrounding animal, ready for cutting and cooking as easily and tidily as you'd measure a yard off of a bolt of cloth at the sewing supply shop. I mention this in regard to Did You Hear About the Morgans? because it, with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as troubled married New Yorkers exiled to Wyoming as part of witness protection after they visit a mob hit, is the romantic-comedy equivalent of one of those hypothetical farmed slabs of meat, an over-engineered counterfeit whose marketing tells us a lie every instinct we have disputes.
And that's fairly harsh language for Did You Hear About the Morgans? , a film so superbly mediocre I actually forgot about it not later in the week or later in the evening but rather while I was, in fact, watching it. There's a double-edged sword in play here, and it cuts Did You Hear About the Morgans? to the bone: It is easy to imagine worse romantic comedies, but, worse, it is hard to imagine the clearly talented people involved giving us something so bland and bleary.
Handsome-but-hesitant Hugh Grant is Paul Morgan, Manhattan legal powerhouse; strong-but-scattered Sarah Jessica Parker is Meryl Morgan, the realtor queen of New York's better neighborhoods. If it weren't for the fact that they're separated, they'd be quite a power couple. But they are separated — after the stress of trying to conceive cracked open fractures in their marriage, Paul had a dalliance on a business trip, and now they are living, in the words of that great philosopher Phil Collins, living separate lives. As the film opens, they have one civil meal — its tough, but they talk — and on their way walking homewards to one of her showings after, see Meryl's client waiting on the balcony. And then see him get shot. And then see the killer. Who then sees them. Awkward.
So it is that the Morgans are hustled off to Ray, Wyoming, in the custody of the local sheriff Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliot) and his deputy-wife Emma(Mary Steenburgen), as a stopgap measure before longer-term separate solutions can be worked out. So, there you have it: The Morgans are a) fish out of water, trapped in Wyoming's very un-Manhattan splendor b) fish in a barrel, as the killer (Michael Kelly) and his efforts to track the Morgan s down and silence them are both helped by the twosome's absolute lack of survival instincts or common sense and c) fighting, feuding and fussing fish, as they have nothing to do in their isolation but snap, snarl and slash at each other … or do they?
Writer-director Marc Lawrence has worked with Grant twice — on the sub-par Two Weeks Notice and the surprisingly winning Music and Lyrics — but the third time is not the charm. Lawrence has a nice sense of the rhythm and grammar of Grant's delivery, but the sentences it forms are off; landing in Wyoming, Parker explains her packing choices to Elliot: "We were only allowed to pack one bag, so I packed a lot of underwear and a strapless gown." After a beat, Grant darts his head forward, birdlike, and interjects: "Me, too." It's a nice line. It's also vat-grown and not organic, because a real New York lawyer wouldn't self-mock in front of a macho stranger he'd just met.
Parker is also a little slack and out-of-place; no matter how self-absorbed Meryl is, would she actually call her office knowing that a killer was on her trail? Parker has a talent for comedy, and Did You Hear About the Morgans? also takes advantage of her unofficial pop-culture status as the first lady of Manhattan. (After so much Sex and the City hubbub, if they ever re-do the Statue of Liberty, they may as well replace the Lady with the Lamp with a casting of Parker holding a Cosmo glass.) But asking us if we heard about the Morgans implies that a) what happens to the Morgans is shocking, which it is not and b) that we care about what has happened and will happen to the Morgans, which we do not.
The biggest crime on display in Did You Hear About the Morgans? isn't the murder they witness but the petty larcenies we see in action. Much like the upcoming Leap Year, Did You Hear About the Morgans? never met a cliché it didn't like or a better moment from a better film it wouldn't steal, and wanders through several subplots (Wilford Brimley's aim to get his granddaughter a record deal, for one example) that make it feel eternally, impossibly long as it meanders towards a conclusion we've all seen coming. Did You Hear About the Morgans? Well, give it two weeks — two months, if you're flying anytime soon, as this is a movie made to be seen in the exhausted limbo of trans-continental flight — and, trust me, you won't have to hear about them anymore.