- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2004

Rooting for divorce lawyers to find love is hard enough. “Laws of Attraction” makes the task nearly impossible. “Attraction” intermittently entertains but leaves us with a nagging question: Why are good screwball comedies an endangered species?

The film’s dueling-lawyers motif treads closely to last year’s “Intolerable Cruelty.”

That Coen brothers’ misfire at least cranked up the zippy repartee and let George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones bask in movie-star glamour.

“Attraction” wisely casts Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore as the dueling lovers but gives them precious little to say.

Sure, they talk, sometimes even yell, but they can’t con us into buying their inevitable embrace.

Miss Moore is Audrey Woods, a tough-as-a-buffet-line-steak divorce lawyer who’s an insecure wreck outside the courtroom. She jams pastries in her mouth when no one’s looking and seeks love advice from her youth-obsessed mother (Frances Fisher, who’s developing a sturdy career as a character actress).

Mr. Brosnan’s Daniel Rafferty, by comparison, enters the movie as an enigma and never sheds the label. He’s a charming oaf who sleeps in court one moment, then delivers a slam-dunk closing argument the next.

Just wait a few minutes, and he’ll change once more.

It’s all to serve a clumsy plot that manages to chase its stars not once, but twice to Ireland.

The leads get too comfortable with each other after a night of drinking early in their romance, then later get hitched after yet another booze-a-thon.

At this point, the movie needs either a rewrite or an intervention.

Their besotted bliss doesn’t stop them from squaring off in court. They’re hired to represent both parties in a doomed marriage. Audrey is defending a preening rock star (Michael Sheen), while Daniel sticks up for the star’s wronged wife (Parker Posey, slumming in mainstreamland).

Let’s set aside the credibility of two warring divorce attorneys slugging it out in court even when they’re married. It’s a would-be screwball comedy, and the laws of logic can be loosened if the romance crackles.

Our mismatched couple does manage to throw off some sparks, even as the accumulation of trite coincidences threatens to overwhelm them.

It’s a breath of minty fresh air to see two middle-aged leads, but neither has the kind of keen comic chops to put over mediocre material.

Miss Moore approaches comedy like an honors student attacking a term paper. She’s all technique and little mirth. She similarly stumbled over the 2001 comedy “Evolution,” but Lucille Ball couldn’t have wrung laughs out of that mess.

She’s still a magnetic presence, a fortysomething actress whose poise and beauty remain intact no matter the vehicle.

Mr. Brosnan lets us see what his post-Bond career might be like, and if you look closely, it’s a promising portrait. Unleashed from his superspy persona, he can be rumpled and charming, sympathetic and unapproachably handsome.

Director Peter Howitt (1998’s “Sliding Doors”) gets plenty of mileage from the New York City backdrops but gets lost in the film’s clunky rhythms.

The case for “Laws of Attraction” is pretty weak, and when “Saturday Night Live” alum Nora Dunn gets the best laughs, it’s the audience who may want to file an appeal.

**

WHAT: “Laws of Attraction”

RATING: PG:13 (Sexual situations, frequent drinking and coarse language)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Howitt. Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.lawsofattractionmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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