Mark Reviews Movies


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Lawrence

Cast: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Michael Kelly, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Wilford Brimley

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and momentary violence)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 12/18/09

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 17, 2009

Bad movies with questions for titles set themselves up way too easily for jokes, but since Did You Hear About the Morgans? has so little imagination in its jokes, I don't feel like expending any effort to think up one for the title. Plus, I'll have to force a joke, which means it'll come across as lamely as the ones in the movie, and where's the fun in that?

The movie has two familiar stories: city people in the country and the bickering couple. Here are the basic problems with each of them in this case: We realize the movie doesn't just quickly run out of its fish-out-of-water jokes but doesn't have any unique or funny gags in its arsenal the moment the couple from New York City lands in Wyoming.

Moments after stepping into a small-town airport, Sarah Jessica Parker's Meryl Morgan spots a poster showing the proper procedure if a bear approaches you. She shows Hugh Grant's Paul, her separated ex-husband, the poster, and he immediately wants a copy. While making a stop in town to pick up some new clothes, he also purchases bear repellant (I looked it up; it is a real thing). Upon arriving at their new digs, he finds some handout copies of the initial poster.

It's not a question of if Paul will encounter a bear in his new habitat and that bear repellant will go wrong but when. The answer is relatively quickly, which makes us wonder why writer/director Marc Lawrence was so intent on foreshadowing the hell out of a joke that shows up so early, peters out so swiftly, and makes absolutely no sense at any given point. After all, the bear shows up when Paul is only 20-odd feet away from the safety of a house.

I won't even get into questioning why Paul, a life-long city dweller, has any rational reason to be so afraid of bears that one of his first thoughts after seeing the flyer is to stock up on bear repellant. Maybe he and Meryl had a quiet, getaway cabin in upstate New York, as I can't imagine Meryl stepping foot in New Jersey after she has to actually consider living outside of the Big Apple or being murdered by a ruthless killer by staying.

Look, I've spent so much time on the stupid, pointless bear joke that I forgot to mention that Paul and Meryl are in Wyoming because, after having an amiable dinner together for the first time since they split when Paul had an affair, they witnessed a murder. The feds want the Morgans to enter into witness protection because the killer (Michael Kelly) is connected to a Russian or Slavic or Burmese drug lord or arms dealer or megalomaniacal supervillain bent on world domination.

Don't worry about that guy, as he never comes up again. It's merely an obvious, useless excuse to wearily force the Morgans together for an extended period of time in a place where they'll receive the biggest culture shock of their lives.

They stay with the local sheriff (Sam Elliott) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen). The couple cooks a lot of meat, and Meryl is a member of PETA. They live next to a town where people buy rifles at the local big box store, and Paul looks frightened as the hunter tests out her new purchase. They have dinner at a local café where the owner (Wilford Brimley for some reason) smokes inside, and Meryl can't understand why her request that he blows the smoke in a different direction offends him so.

It continues on as such, and Grant's sardonic, witty delivery is so castrated by the all-too familiar scenario that all sense of irony is lost. Meanwhile, Parker's Meryl is so spoiled as to render her an only-less-than-shrill depiction of Big City entitlement. Let's face it, if you're going to go for something as overdone as the fish-out-of-water routine, you should at least make your lead characters remotely identifiable or at least likeable in their flabbergasted state.

No, instead we have the Morgans grow closer because of the sheriff and his wife's down-home wisdom (while milking a cow, no less) and find themselves growing fond of their down-home customs, like target shooting and horseback riding.

Meanwhile, their two assistants (Elisabeth Moss and Jesse Liebman) wonder what they will do while their respective bosses are in hiding (Now there's an idea for a fish-out-of-water story: an assistant with no one to assist trying to show she/he's still a valuable asset to the company) and eventually screw up and put the killer on the Morgans' track. Thankfully for the couple, the script delays the killer's discovery long enough for them to learn the ways of small-town America.

By the climax of Did You Hear About the Morgans?, it's not a matter of if Meryl will show off her innate shooting ability, Paul will deliver on his equestrian prowess, and the two will end up in a bull costume at the local rodeo but when. The answer to that is not soon enough.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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