Dir:Peter Howitt. US. 2004. 90mins.

Laws Of Attraction travels the well-worn path ofcountless screwball romantic comedies before it. Yet while the join-the-dotsplot is disappointingly devoid of any fresh twists or ideas, the film itselfproves an unexpectedly pleasant diversion, thanks to sparkling dialogue andwinning performances from Pierce Brosnan, Frances Fisher and Michael Sheen.

Itmay be no Philadelphia Story but it is far superior to the likes of lastsummer's Intolerable Cruelty, despite an inconsistent performance fromJulianne Moore. Howitt, who first made an impact with 1998's Sliding Doorswould seem to have another hit on his hands. The film opens in the US thisweekend: ancillary markets look strong.

Withvisions of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy undoubtedly dancing in theirheads - or that other wonderful screen couple, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne -screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling present two of New York'stop divorce lawyers: prim, meticulous workaholic Audrey Woods (Moore) andDaniel Rafferty (Brosnan), whose rumpled appearance and casual, unhurriedmanner belie a razor-sharp intelligence and a killer's instincts.

Neitherattorney has ever lost a case. But oneside or the other has to lose when the two square off in a series ofhigh-profile divorce cases. One particularly nasty lawsuit pits trendy youngfashion designer Serena (Posey) against her two-timing, Irish rock star husbandThorne Jamison (Sheen). Audrey represents Thorne; Daniel represents Serena. Thebig bone of contention is which spouse will get the 12th-centuryIrish castle.

Despiteexemplary professional credentials, Audrey is hopelessly insecure andapprehensive when it comes to her private life. A determination never to marry(or, seemingly, even date) stems partly from her mother Sara (Fisher in anabsolutely delightful turn), an exuberant and flirtatious beauty with a yen forliving and a string of ex-husbands. Although the two women could not be moredifferent, Sara is her daughter's closest confidante.

Thetwo lawyers eventually fall in love, but while Daniel has no trouble admittingit, Audrey resists. Things heat up considerably when the two find themselves inIreland together, get drunk and wake up married.

Timingis everything in comedy, and while Brosnan and Fisher exhibit a perfect senseof it, on this occasion Moore does not. An intellectual - and sometimes rathercold - actress, she excels at dramatic fare but her comic skills are possiblynot yet as finely honed. Several funny lines fall flat and she lacks theability to seem arrogant, anxious and vulnerable all at the same time. Toooften she seems to be acting and the end result fails to convince.

Mooreis not egregious enough, however, to sink the film. There are simply too manyfunny lines and performances for that. Brosnan proves a wonderfully pleasantsurprise, neither over nor underplaying his character's dishevelled charm.Sheen has fun with his slightly over the top rock god, while Fisher arguablyhas the best lines in the film and delivers them with panache.

Thefilm itself is clearly influenced by the wonderful screwball comedies that wereso popular in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood (composer Shearmur deserves specialmention for his jaunty, jazzy,1940's-tinged score that perfectly captures anexuberant Manhattan). Director Howitt brings an appropriately light touch tothe proceedings and manages the lickety-split pacing well, even if thesupporting cast when the film relocates to rural Ireland are somewhat twee.

Prodcos: NewLine Cinema, Mobius Pictures, Stratus Film Company, Intermedia, MHF ZweiteAcademy Film, Deep River, Irish Dreamtime,Fern Valley Limited
US dist:
New Line Cinema
Int'l sales:
Initial Entertainment Group
Exec prods:
Pierce Brosnan, Basil Iwanyk, Bob Yari, Mark Gordon, MarkGill, Arthur Lappin, Elie Samaha, Toby Emmerich, Guy Stodel, OliverHengst
DavidT Friendly, Marc Turtletaub, Beau St. Clair, Julie Durk, David Bergstein
Paul Myler
AlineBrosh McKenna and Robert Harling
Prod des:
Charles J. H. Wood
Main cast:
Pierce Brosnan, Julianne Moore, Frances Fisher, MichaelSheen, Parker Posey, Nora Dunn