New York power-couple Meryl and Paul Morgan witness the contract murder of an arms dealer. The murderer sees them and the couple are placed in the Witness Protection Program. Unfortunately, they were in the process of considering a divorce after a trial separation. They are given new identities and flown to Wyoming where they are put under the supervision of law enforcement couple Emma and Clay Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen and Sam Elliott). Here, far from Manhattan, Meryl and Paul have to learn to survive and trust each other.
The trailer for this comedy gives you fair warning. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in Wyoming! Bear attack! Dealing with hicks! With guns! However, the trailer doesn’t show the best bits of the movie, because there are no best bits. It doesn’t contain spoilers because there is literally nothing to spoil.
“Surely that’s hyperbole?!”I hear you cry. “You’re exaggerating for comic effect.” No. For an alleged rom-com, this film is as free of laughs and romance as say, TERMINATOR 4. The comic leads, both of whom have been funny in other movies, go through the motions. Or as my film buddy, Sparky said, “They’re phoning it in.” And they were. From the inner moons of Jupiter.
I am placing the blame on writer-director Marc Lawrence. He has constructed a tale in which the main dramatic problem – will the Morgans reconcile their relationshop and escape the contract killer who is hunting them? – is presented in a lacklustre fashion that fails to engage an audience. The screening I saw was with a small but representative crowd – there were children under 10 through to grandparents – and to call their laughter sporadic would be charitable. Lawrence gives us a series of allegedly comic arguments between Grant and Parker, which lack wit and sparkle. Watching these is like being asked to suck on a lemon for an hour and half. This scenario is not “they say they hate each other, but really they’re made for each other’. On the contrary it’s “he broke her trust with his infidelity”. Ha ha ha!
So, the premise lacks promise and this is further exacerbated by the idea of sending the city slickers to the ‘Real America’ of Wyoming. And here Lawrence adds insult to injury. He makes his country characters seem like well…gun-toting rednecks, but he’s also saying that it’s their salt-of-the-earth values, exemplified in activities like playing bingo and chopping wood, that are a healing balm to our bickering Manhattanites. These people are wise or fools as suits the purpose of the scene they are in.
Only the very young and unwary will not expect the contract killer to hunt down the Morgans and believe me, this seems like an inexorably slow process. There were many times when I feared that killer might not manage to find that vital clue that would lead him to a lethal showdown. I guess that’s a kind of dramatic tension. Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker are way below par here. For all their respective experiences with this kind of material, almost nothing they do here seems to draw upon their natural abilities. To be fair to them both, the script and direction is flat and uninspiring.
Sam Elliott, obviously our favourite cowboy actor, comes out of this largely unscathed. Mary Steenburgen not normally your go-to-woman for down-home, gun-toting Annie Oakley types brings off this unlikely role and is a good foil for Elliott. However all the other actors are damaged by contact with this slow-moving, yet lethal vehicle.
Elisabeth Moss of television’s MAD MEN is supposed to be amusingly assertive, but seems like a psycho and Wilford Brimley, who can do wise and charming without batting an eyelid, instead is stuck with the role of vinegary old bastard whom you’d happily strangle. I predict fans of Seth Gillam’s character Carver from television’s THE WIRE will be especially stung by the unfunny rubbish the actor is given in his role as the head of the FBI team.
Marc Lawrence wrote and directed the rom-coms TWO WEEKS NOTICE (2002) and WORDS AND LYRICS (2007). Each of these had a misfired pairing involving Grant. Neither film produced laughs or chemistry with Sandra Bullock or Drew Barrymore. And now there’s the same absence of magic with Grant and SJP. Clearly, it’s time Hugh Grant and Marc Lawrence got a divorce. American rom-com Grant is consistently less funny than the British rom-com Grant. Yep, I’m actually saying he’s better in those Richard Curtis films. God help us all.
USA | 103 minutes | (3/10)