Alas, Hugh Grant, it has come to this. Most of his previous films have exploited his flippant charm. But "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" has no snap, no frolicsome energy. It's an exhausted movie; he and co-star Sarah Jessica Parker can't work up the charge they gave to their earlier work. (Parker isn't much of a screen star, but she was amiably neurotic on the TV run of "Sex and the City.") You get the sense they're not even making a serious, honorable try.

They play Paul and Meryl, estranged New Yorkers who witness a murder and are forced into uneasy togetherness when the witness-protection program ships them to cowboy country.

Writer/director Marc Lawrence had broad, low-comedy hits with the Sandra Bullock movies "Miss Congeniality" and "Two Weeks Notice." This one is a painful failure, lumpish and crude. As they adjust to life way out West, the effete Morgans bumble through encounters with gruff ranchers and aggressive bears, but the lame-brained jokes never take you anywhere you'd want to go. Neither the New York City scenes nor the Wyoming locations demonstrate any feel for the way Americans really live. Lawrence's imagination appears to have been fed entirely by television.

Grant is dutiful and passive as Paul. His clothes are neatly pressed and he shows up for work like an office manager sleepwalking toward 5 p.m. He delivers his dialogue with a delicate wince that is meant to italicize its attempted ironies. When he learns that their safe house is in Ray, Wyoming, Grant asks, "Is that near Phil, Wyoming?" With lines like that littering the script, you wonder what they cut out. Knock-knock jokes? No wonder he's grimacing.

As the rugged individualist sheriff assigned to protect them, Sam Elliott smiles his kindly grandpa smiles and lets his handlebar mustache do most of the acting. There are no characters here, just mannerisms.

The real shame of the movie is its unexceptional look. The landscape around Yellowstone, where the film is supposedly set, is one of America's great scenic wonders. The movie was actually filmed in tax-break haven New Mexico, and it looks blah. Inexcusable.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186