Laws of Attraction

(2004) * 1/2 Pg-13
90 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Peter Howitt. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, Michael Sheen, Frances Fisher.

After striking a superficial resemblance to a classic romantic comedy like Adam's Rib--in which legal lovebirds Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn made a fairly even match--the newfangled romantic comedy Laws of Attraction plays by modern Hollywood's ego-driven, screenwriter-mulched rules. Here the litigious lovers are executive producer Pierce Brosnan, puffed up to full comedic swagger, and Julianne Moore, the dame of domestic dramas.

Moore plays New York divorce lawyer Audrey Miller, a self-esteemless mess who barely holds herself together by dashing to secluded areas and wolfing down Sno-Balls. When she faces the rumpled Daniel Rafferty (Brosnan) in court, he disarms her by plucking a Sno-Ball crumb from her face and nibbling away at it; the meet-puke vibe continues over a cocktail known as a "goat's nut," and you'd better believe that name is treated like comedy gold in its repeated appearances.

She's tighly-wound (Rafferty pegs her thusly: "all-consuming competitive spirit meets rampany insecurity"); he's a rakish warrior in the name of love ("Some say there's method to his madness; some say there's madness in his method"). The early going musters some spritzy moments, mostly from Frances Fisher as Moore's glamour-chasing mother. Fisher gets to acknowledge Moore's embodiment of an old romantic comedy chestnut: "I don't know why you've developed this inability to admit when you're atrracted to someone." Brosnan's Rafferty stumps for love ("You have to fight for what you believe in!"), but somehow can't resist betraying his true love's trust by claiming the opposing counsel's evidence he finds around her house.

As refereed by director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors), Laws of Attraction stumbles amiably through its urban first act before falling flat on its face in the Irish countryside (three guesses who came up with that idea) when the film takes an inexplicable turn to fish-out-of-water "comedy." Aside from giving a chance for Brosnan to romp in the land of his heritage, the jump to Ireland (and seemingly into a completely different movie) is both pointless and narratively unjustified, excused by one of several highly dubious legal demands on the part of Nora Dunn's brisk, tough-loving judge.

"I use the law, not cheap theatrics," huffs Moore, and methinks she protests too much. Moore is evidently better than her material, as is Brosnan. While Brosnan mugs with dedicated animation, Moore grounds herself convincingly (especially in the winning moment when she comes around to loving that man); neither strategy succeeds in overcoming a seriously uneven script. Spackled together as it is, Laws of Attraction deserves to be struck down.

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