Laws of Attraction
April 27th, 2004
Need a reminder why star power is so important? Watch “Laws of Attraction” and witness how Pierce Brosnan and especially Julianne Moore hold up this painfully erratic lawyer bonanza. The narrative and the direction don’t quite know what to do or where to go, but watching these two class actors banter, smooch, and, in Moore’s case, outright glow, is almost enough to recommend this disappointing screwball comedy.
Audrey Miller (Moore) is New York’s finest female divorce attorney, keeping herself in line by avoiding men and hanging out with her youth-obsessed mother (Frances Fisher). When she finds her match in fellow lawyer Daniel Rafferty (Brosnan), the two engage in a little friendly courtroom competition that blossoms into a sexual relationship, and soon a drunken wedding. When one of the biggest divorce cases in the city comes calling, Audrey and Daniel finds themselves on opposite sides of the case, which forces them to evaluate just how their relationship came to be.
“Laws of Attraction” is a nice stab at a screwball romantic comedy, but it falls short in both those areas. Directed by the unremarkable Peter Howitt (“Johnny English,” “AntiTrust”), “Attraction” begins as a loose battle of the sexes, moves into fish-out-of-water comedy, then climaxes as a deeply serious meditation on marriage. Those are heavy targets, and Howitt doesn’t have the facility to transition between the comedy and dramatic beats, leaving a rather uninspired experience in his wake.
The most glaring hole in this suspiciously short (90 minutes) movie is that Daniel and Audrey are at their best trying to one up each other in the games of love and law. The film’s opening act is dedicated solely to the foibles of their reluctant courtship and professional battles. The film reaches a sweet pitch of comedy and flirtation in these opening moments that is all but impossible to resist. Howitt seems to feel differently, and eventually the comedy gives way to an awkward sequence set rather inexplicably in Ireland (complete with Guinness drinking contests and traditional step dancing), and a final act that halts the comedic flow in a bid to make the audience truly care about these two characters that they’ve barely met. “Laws” doesn’t fuse together the way Howitt envisions it, ending up as a grab bag of cinematic textures that make for an uneasy sit.
Fortunately, the two stars keep “Laws” from becoming a total drag. Don’t believe in the power of superstardom? Take a gander at how Brosnan and Moore literally own the frame in their starring roles. Two actors of immeasurable charm and wit, Brosnan and Moore do their very best to save the material, and they only halfway succeed through their charisma and chemistry. Moore is the real surprise, as she’s rarely afforded opportunities to do comedy. Though burdened with some eye-rolling character traits (sugaraholic, manhater), Moore is responsible for the lion’s share of the laughs, which is something to say if anyone saw her try comedy before in 2001’s “Evolution.” Breathtakingly captured by ace cinematographer Adrian Biddle (“The World Is Not Enough,” “Willow,” “Aliens”), Moore is a treat to watch, double-fisting pink snoballs and working overtime to save this sinking ship. I commend her effort, and I must admit that I watched in awe as she almost single-handedly carried the movie.
My rating: C