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Laws of Attraction is the kind of film you might mistake for "cute" or "charming" at first glance. Maybe you will open the paper and spot the ad with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore canoodling and think to yourself how nice it would be to see James Bond defrosting indie film's go-to ice queen in a romantic comedy. Or maybe you will see the TV ad or the coming-attractions trailer and think to yourself, if you're over the age of 45, "Gosh, they haven't made 'em like that since Hepburn and Tracy were alive." Two beautiful people playing divorce attorneys on opposite sides of a case, bickering and bantering, guzzling booze and sucking face, falling in bed and in love, realizing their relationship is bad for business, but dagnabit, who cares anyway -- it's the stuff of classic screwball romance, you'll tell yourself, a candidate for Turner Classic Movies enshrinement in the near future. You will, of course, be wrong.

Every so often, a movie comes along that offers so much of so little that you're left wondering why anyone bothered writing it, much less financing it, casting it and releasing it. You know the type: a movie in which everything you expect to happen does, again and again and again; a movie in which people act just as you expect them to and don't evolve so much as defrost; a movie in which the outcome is revealed in the poster, leaving the movie but a mere after-the-fact formality. Nothing about Laws of Attraction is remotely original; even its title has the dull ring of the generic, like Opposites Attract or He Said, She Said. See it or don't. You will never notice the difference.

Yes, yes -- romantic comedies are by their nature formulaic; they haven't been a novelty since Clark Gable. But this one's hardly romantic and scarcely a comedy. The paucity of wit gives it away; the absence of sparks, too. Laws of Attraction is a straight line without a single left turn; sitting there, watching A give way to B give way to C and so on, you will swear you wrote it, because you're so far ahead of the story you're already out the door, in your car, and tucked in bed before the second act. That Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling are even allowed to have story and screenplay credit is unfathomable; better to credit the entire membership of the Writers Guild of America, because at least that'd be more honest. If someone in the Guild hasn't made this film already, it's because they threw it out before pitching it to a studio.

And director Peter Howitt, good with Sliding Doors but very bad with Johnny English, manages to absolutely waste a cast that could transform tripe into a five-course meal. Seeing Pierce Brosnan all tousled and disheveled made me want to marry him; you have to possess some kind of otherworldly charm to survive as many direct-to-airplane movies as he did before landing the role of Bond-James-Bond. But he's stuck with a moribund role in Daniel Rafferty, the smarter-than-he-looks divorce attorney who genuinely believes his clients are cowards who won't fight through the rough patches. He's a paragon, without flaw or foible, which renders him about as interesting as a sheet of blank paper. You wish he were more like George Clooney in the Coen Brothers' darker, dirtier Intolerable Cruelty -- a little cruel beneath the shiny grin, instead of just a little drool.

Julianne Moore is seldom bad in anything, even those movies in which she's been miscast (Assassins, opposite Sly Stallone), mistreated (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), or clearly misled (Nine Months, another movie so baldly formulaic, it's on the periodic table under Sht). But her Audrey Woods is one of those doggedly single women who appear in movies about doggedly single women who refuse to accept romance and love and marriage and blahblahblah; she's given nothing but the archetype and asked to fill in the blank, which she does with more blanks. Never has Moore looked less comfortable in a movie.

Also wasted is Parker Posey as Serena, an aspiring Vivienne Westwood-styled fashion designer married to a philandering punk-rocker (Michael Sheen, whose character is more 1984 than 2004) from whom she wants a divorce. With her streaked hair and pinched voice, Posey's given little to do but bark and bitch; finally, her role seems more cameo than character, to the point of being reduced to an extra in a couple of clumsily edited montage sequences. But most disquieting is the casting of Frances Fisher as Moore's mother, Sara, who's a plastic-surgery-punk-rock-and-leather-pants fetishist constantly sporting surgically bruised eyes. Fisher's a mere eight years older than Moore and looks almost the same age; God knows what it's supposed to suggest about these women that one refuses to fall in love and the other apparently had a child while in elementary school. The flaws of distraction, let's just say.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky