Did you hear about Did You Hear About the Morgans? Really, you don't want to. Here is a movie with everything going for it and nothing working. After the preview, I felt an urgent need to enroll in a witless-protection program.

This mirth-free comedy costars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as unhappily married Manhattanites who, after seeing a contract killing, are shipped off by the Feds to witness protection in Wyoming. They are remanded to the care of a folksy sheriff (Sam Elliot) and his rifle-totin' wife (Mary Steenburgen). Cue Sarah Palin crack.

It's an occasion for writer/director Marc Lawrence to indulge in feeble red-state/blue-state jokes that are way past their expiration date and the audience's funny threshold.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? is the third film from Lawrence, who made the giddily entertaining Two Weeks Notice and Music & Lyrics, films that boosted Hugh Grant's career. He likewise wrote the improbably funny Forces of Nature and Miss Congeniality, which did the same for Sandra Bullock. For Lawrence as director, the third time's the charmless. Morgan's the pity.

Rarely in the field of human comedy has so little been achieved by such big talents.

Grant, who typically takes dead-on-arrival dialogue and tickles it to life with nimble verbal gymnastics, falls headfirst off the uneven bars. Heck, he's even upstaged by Bart the Bear. As for Parker, that most effervescent of actresses has temporarily lost her bubbly delivery. The actors are fish out of water, flailing away.

So is Lawrence, who characterizes small-town Wyoming as a place without retail or skyline. Heck, aren't the Rockies the first American skyscrapers?

This movie makes the case that you can't take the boy out of New York without his losing his sense of humor.Showing at: Area theaters.EndText