'Laws of Attraction': Attorneys at Love

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2004

Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan create just enough chemistry to carry "Laws of Attraction," a tame, fitfully amusing and generally inoffensive romantic comedy. As divorce attorneys whose courtroom sparring lays the groundwork for an unlikely but inescapable romance, Moore and Brosnan follow in the footsteps of Hepburn and Tracy, circa "Adam's Rib." "Laws of Attraction" doesn't possess the verbal dexterity or sparkling wit of that antecedent, but it has a modest screwball charm. And it's helped considerably by two attractive, likable lead players whose unforced appeal can make even the most contrived episodes easy to swallow.

Moore plays Audrey Woods, an almost-middle-aged careerist who has succeeded in submerging her insecurities under a snaky competitive streak to make partner in her firm and become New York's most successful divorce lawyer. Although Audrey lives in a palatial Upper Somewhere apartment and affects a smooth, unruffled demeanor, the audience is tipped off to her neuroses early on, when she compulsively stuffs herself with a Hostess Sno-Ball in a bathroom stall to tamp down pre-hearing nerves.

As Daniel Rafferty, Brosnan is supposed to represent Audrey's raffish counterpoint: When she first meets him, he's taking a catnap in the courtroom. Just as Audrey's character quirks are used to telegraph her repression, Daniel's peccadilloes are meant to show how earthy he is. His unkempt office is in Chinatown above a deli, he frequents Cuban nightclubs, and his tie is nearly always askew.

Of course, this might be an act to throw Audrey off her game. "Laws of Attraction" is propelled by Audrey's conflicted desire either to trust him and fall in love, or to outsmart him and win. Director Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors"), working from a script by Alice Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling, manages to imbue this predictable formula with, if not ingenuity, at least a sprightly efficiency, having Audrey and Daniel spar via TV sound bites and adroitly transporting them from Manhattan to a romantic castle in Ireland, where they wind up getting married during a drunken night out. It's actually their second drunken night out in a movie that unapologetically celebrates the joys of occasional inebriation -- and cheers to that.

There's not much else to say about "Laws of Attraction" without spoiling things further. Brosnan once again demonstrates that he consistently improves the material he's asked to work with; Moore has been served better by the more serious vehicles on her résumé, but she acquits herself just as respectably in pure fluff.

Perhaps the players most deserving of praise in "Laws of Attraction" are the supporting actors, all of whom supply piquant notes in a production so by-the-numbers that it even features the de rigueur Norah Jones-backed montage. Frances Fisher, who's only eight years older than Moore, handles the indignity of playing her mother with good humor and grace. Parker Posey does that sublime thing that she does -- and what exactly is that ineffable gift? -- as one of Audrey's clients. And the British actor Michael Sheen steals every scene he's in as a pompous, mascaraed rock star. While Moore and Brosnan simmer along in their classy, genial way, Sheen's moments deliver quick spikes of comic heat.

Laws of Attraction (87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company