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MOVIES: Flick makes you wish you'd never heard of the Morgans

Photo courtesy of Sony/Columbia Pictures. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant star the comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"

Photo courtesy of Sony/Columbia Pictures. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant star the comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (PG-13)

A half star out of four

For the third time in seven years, writer/director Marc Lawrence has teamed up with leading man Hugh Grant on a movie that is so painfully inept and unentertaining it makes their previous dismal efforts ("Two Weeks Notice" and "Music & Lyrics") look like Marx Brothers classics by comparison.

Also for the third time, Lawrence calls on the female lead to do all of the heavy lifting but he was at least fortunate enough in the other films to have two actresses (Sandra Bullock and Drew Barrymore) who knew a little something about comedy and looked like they actually wanted to be in the film.

During her nearly three-decade long career, Sarah Jessica Parker has been funny exactly once ("L.A. Story") and if not for her long stint as the straight man on "Sex and the City" would be starring in a series of made-for-cable B-films.

For the entirety of this movie, both Parker and Grant appear ready to pass gall stones while sharing nothing that gets even remotely close to on-screen chemistry. Lawrence adds insult to injury by writing their characters as a bickering and recently separated married couple who witness a mob-style murder in New York City and must relocate to Ray, Wyo., for their own protection.

For Paul (Grant) and especially Meryl Morgan (Parker), New York might as well be an appendage or one of their internal organs. He's a lawyer, she's a hot-shot real estate agent and neither can stomach the idea of living in a red town like Ray where Democrats and vegetarians (the Morgans are both) are treated with the same level of disdain as Middle Eastern terrorists.

Another married couple -- Clay (Sam Elliott) and Emma Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen) -- are the U.S. Marshals in charge of guarding the Morgans and are as bland as white bread. With a fridge full of recently deceased local wildlife, no cable and a DVD collection limited to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood titles, the Wheelers (on paper) offer excellent contrast to the Morgans but Lawrence never takes advantage of the potential dramatic (or comedic) conflicts.

The closest Lawrence ever gets to giving us something interesting arrives in the form of Vincent (TV drama mainstay Michael Kelly), the resourceful hit-man tracking down the Morgans. It doesn't take long for the Blackberry-deprived Meryl to forget why she's a hunted woman and gift-wraps something for Vincent which is all he needs to find her and come-a-knocking.

Releasing something this ultra-light and safe on the same day as "Avatar" was (in theory) an ingenious bit of counter-programming. Not everyone in the country wants to watch a nearly three-hour long sci-fi adventure and romantic comedy fans are going to pay good money to see this if for no other reason than pure default. Boy, are they ever going to regret that decision.

If you know for a fact "Avatar" won't wow you, do yourself a huge favor. Stay home and do something a lot more fun and painless, like maybe repeatedly banging your head up against the wall or sticking your hand in a deep fryer. (Sony/Columbia)