**/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras C-
starring Pierce Brosnan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, Michael Sheen
screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling
directed by Peter Howitt
by Walter Chaw Utterly mediocre and hence better than most of the romantic comedies cranked out by the Hollywood schmaltz factory these days, Peter Howitt's Adam's Rib throwback Laws of Attraction has the over-polished sheen of an apple waxed and stroked so many times that it's more aesthetically impressive than palatable. The film bears a Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts checklist for a screenplay, with blacked-out boxes next to: meet-cute (she sticks a pencil in his ear); two musical montages (one happy, one sad); a celebration of bad behaviour (binge-drinking); fetishizing of one metaphor-laden item (broken leprechaun figurine); baguette sticking out of a grocery bag; betrayal of half-hearted feminist tenets by making heroine bedazzled by jewellery and men; betrayal of female gender by having model-perfect heroine have the "earthy" habit of binge-eating and not vomiting; quirky elderly/gay/parental comic relief figure; a scene where heroine falls down; a scene where hero does/admits to bad thing; travel/architectural pornography; and temporary break-up leading to nauseating epilogue. Yep, Laws of Attraction is pounded earth complete with a tiresomely whimsical score by Ed Shearmur, opening titles lifted from "Dynasty", and a streak of potential subversion so neutered that it's completely childlike.
Divorce lawyer Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) plays Remington Steele to divorce lawyer Audrey Miller's (Julianne Moore) Laura: the woman a hard-working, intensely qualified professional and the man a layabout rapscallion opportunist who gets what he wants through a combination of easy charm and facile turns of phrase. Laws of Attraction is a career woman's nightmare, a full-frontal attack on her toil and sacrifice suggesting that the only happiness for a motivated woman is to be made the helpmeet of a guy with great hair. Audrey's mother, Sara (Frances Fisher), is a surgery-addicted, image-obsessed, allegedly spunky plot catalyst who likes pop sensation Thorne Jamison (Michael Sheen) because he sings bubblegum punk that sounds sort of like Iggy Pop on barbiturates. It's what passes for "hipness" in films like this, while the Thorne subplot (he's getting divorced from his wife Parker Posey) gives our principals an excuse to go to Ireland and discover after a night of conspicuous consumption and casual sex that they were meant to be together.
By the way, it seems that women are shallow and obsessed with fashion (see also 13 Going on 30, wherein it is revealed that women are obsessed with shoes--a moment of silence now for "Sex in the City"). The potential for satire is shrugged off like last year's off-the-shoulder, and no amount of Andre Gidé books left around on Brosnan's sleeping chest will convince that there's even a shred of meta-text in the thing. Laws of Attraction appears to be deadly earnest in its belief in the charm of Venus/Mars gender typing--at least it is after the hacksaw ministrations of screening audiences and populist hack script doctors. Pauline Kael wrote once about films that appealed to people who were afraid of movies that elicit any kind of non-facile emotion--she had no idea how low the bottom would get. Not to say that Laws of Attraction is the worst of its kind, but that it's actually among the best of its kind and that saying so is the very essence of a backhanded compliment.
I don't know when Posey turned into Ally Sheedy, but unlike Sheedy, she hasn't been in a movie worth much of a damn since Henry Fool almost seven years ago. Her weakness for bad romantic comedies (You've Got Mail, The Sweetest Thing) dilutes her once more-impressive body of work almost as fatally as any prolonged exposure to director Thom Fitzgerald will. Moore isn't a comic actress on purpose and Brosnan, reprising the devil-may-care insouciance of still the only role perfect for the man (Remington Steele), is excellent in a nostalgic sort of way. All of them find themselves with Laws of Attraction in a perfect little world that doesn't really need them. This is the endlessly reproducible screenplay at last, plugging in the occasional funny line or wicked barb but doomed to be utterly indistinguishable from the pack. Laws of Attraction is this year's Two Weeks Notice, Maid in Manhattan, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and so on--making its production company's logo of a Moebius strip self-consuming into eternity a pithy critique to say the least. Originally published: April 30, 2004.
Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan presentations of Laws of Attraction reside together on the same side of New Line's dual-layered DVD release. This is the anomalous mediocre transfer from the studio that has repeatedly raised the bar for the format: contrast is so diluted that Julianne Moore looks overinflated (or like a floating head) if she sits on black furniture in a dark power suit, while some botched authoring wreaks havoc with her complexion, sanding her freckles almost completely off. A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is dedicatedly bland, although I was impressed by the clarity and modulation of voices. Extras include a 14-minute helping of deleted scenes, six in all (and each 16x9-enhanced), though the final of these is just an unabridged version of the faux "Cribs" segment heavily excerpted within the finished film; an expunged performance from the enchanting Mina Badie (The Anniversary Party) is worth checking out to gauge how (much better) the movie would've played with her in the lead. (The requisite "alternate ending," meanwhile, manages to be both hideous and unremarkable.) Rounding out the disc, two boring trailers for Laws of Attraction, plus a reel comprising trailers for The Notebook, Unconditional Love, and Elf--turns out the best supplement was the package of Sno Balls that New Line sent along to reviewers in conjunction with a press release for the title. Originally published: August 17, 2004.