Audrey Woods (Julianne Moore) is a driven career gal, all legal-eagle intellect and professional composure on the outside -- but on the inside more of an angst-riddled, Byronically befuddled singleton who, when nervous before a big case, sneaks into the restroom to inhale whole Hostess Snowballs in two bites.
Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) is a disorganized, disheveled, disarmingly handsome pile of wrinkled laundry who is, on the outside, hard to take seriously in a court of law -- but inside lies a sneaky, charming courtroom shark for whom head games are half the fun.
They're both whip-smart, high-priced divorce lawyers who have never lost a case or lost their senses -- until they come up against each other in "Laws of Attraction," a head-butting romantic comedy that tries with such enthusiasm to be snappy and beguiling, it's hard to not like it a little just for the effort.
Clearly inspired by the razor-sharp, dialogue-driven battle-of-the-sexes classics of the 1950s (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in "Adam's Rib") and 1930s (Cary Grant in anything with Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell or Irene Dunne), you can feel Moore, Brosnan and director Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors") wringing the script for every drop of wit.
There is a scintillating early scene, ripe with embarrassment and droll duplicity, in which the two attorneys face off in court the day after a antagonistic business meeting -- which turned into antagonistic flirting, which turned into a drinking contest, which turned into a hung-over "Oh, no!" awakening in the same bed the next morning.
But seemingly afraid of trying to maintain that level of courtroom chemistry, Howitt soon cops out on the trial sequences, except for snippet-of-dialogue montages and a few only-in-the-movies scenes of unlikely unprofessionalism. (During one of many divorce cases over which they trade barbs, Moore blurts out, "How do you know that?" over a surprise in open court.) Instead the film becomes a quirk-versus-quirk pleasantry that keeps finding ways to throw the couple together in other awkward situations -- but it never quite rises to its own occasion.
The pair spend part of the film in rural Ireland where a castle owned by a philandering rock star (Michael Sheen) and his strung-out fashion-designer wife (the hilarious Parker Posey) is being claimed by both parties in an amusingly ugly divorce. Here the two lawyers have another inebriated run-in and wake up to find themselves hitched. Next the story moves back to Manhattan, where they try to cohabitate because the marriage made the newspapers and they don't want their own divorce to deep-six their careers.
But by shortchanging the courtroom scenes, where the sparks would really fly in a pluckier script, writers Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias," "The First Wives Club") and Aline Brosh McKenna ("Three to Tango") try to let themselves off the hook, and increasingly cheat credibility to fit their narrative needs. For instance, neither attorney notices something legally amiss about their bucolic nuptials until genuine amoré has begun to sink in.
And while Brosnan and Moore are talented actors, outside the native arena of their fairly well-drawn characters, they just don't click in the way their genre predecessors did -- or even in the way Brosnan has with other leading ladies. (I kept thinking of his vivacious, cheeky chemistry with Renee Russo in 1999's "The Thomas Crown Affair.")
They have enough sparkle between them to keep the film afloat, but the most entertaining performances come courtesy of Nora Dunn as a snippy judge who takes no bull and Frances Fisher ("Titanic") as Moore's meddling mother, a socialite so obsessed with staying young that she has Botox parties and attends punk rock concerts, looking surprisingly good in full poser gear. When asked the question, "Are you really 36?," she twinkles mischievously and replies, "Parts of me are."
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th April 2004
Box Office USA: $17.8M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: Deep River Productions, Irish Dreamtime, Initial Entertainment Group (IEG)
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 119
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Peter Howitt