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'Morgans' a mixed bag

"Did You Hear About the Morgans?"

When faced with a sure-to-be juggernaut sci-fi box office spectacular like "Avatar," Hollywood has learned that the best thing they can do is offer up some counter-programming.

It worked last summer when "Made of Honor" put butts in the seats of theaters not showing "Iron Man," and the Warner Bros. rom com "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" offered an option for ladies who really weren't interested in seeing "Wolverine" this summer.

This week, Columbia Pictures is rolling the dice, putting "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" up against James Cameron's "Avatar." And in spite of having an unnecessary and overly long name, it just might work out for them.

Paul and Meryl Morgan (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) are both successful New York businesspeople who have been separated for three months, divorce pending. After having dinner to try and patch things up, they witness a Mafia hit and are forced to go into the witness protection program. Whisked away from Manhattan and dropped in the middle of Wyoming, the uptight couple must learn to live together again.

There's really nothing new in this film. We've seen the fish-out-of-water love story earlier (and more effectively) this year with "The Proposal." And there a similar themed film a while back with Kirstie Alley and Tim Allen in the same predicament. But at its heart, "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" is a romantic comedy, and a healthy dose of cliche works in this genre.

When it comes to the film's stars, it's a love-hate relationship for me. Hugh Grant plays his regular charming self, and he handles the role with care. He comes across as a likeable scoundrel who desperately wants to make things work again with his wife.

Sarah Jessica Parker, on the other hand, never quite reaches the level of charming or likeability. She can play quirky Manhattanite perfectly in "Sex and the City," but she just comes across as shrill and irritating in this movie. To her defense, most of the difficult jokes are on her shoulders, leaving Grant to just mug at the camera, shrug and walk away.

It's clearly Parker's movie, and that's a shame. She's the one that appears unreasonable -- from not realizing you can't take an evening gown while in the witness protection program to not comprehending the fact that people have caller ID and can find you with a simple phone call. Her fish-out-of-waterness goes too far in too many scenes.

There are some decent supporting roles, most notably Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen as the couple providing a temporary home for the Morgans. And both Jesse Liebman and Elisabeth Moss are cute as the couple's high-strung assistants, but they really never rise to the top.

You'll have to suspend a lot of disbelief to make this movie work in your head, but the same could be said for the aforementioned "Made of Honor" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." I can't say I disliked "Did You Hear What Happened to the Morgans?" but it wasn't anything to write home about.

Still, for the moviegoers who don't want to watch big blue aliens battle marines on a distant world 150 years into our future, this will be your other option.