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‘Laws of Attraction’ wastes the talents of 2 likable stars

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LAWS OF ATTRACTION — * 1/2 — Julianne Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Frances Fisher; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, brief sex, violence, brief drugs).

You can kind of understand why everything is forced and frantic in "Laws of Attraction" — why its performances are all over the map, why its score is broad and obtrusive.

The material is so familiar, so predictable, that it needs something — anything —to set it apart from any number of generic, studio-generated romantic comedies.

The atmosphere of desperation that pervades this one doesn't make it any easier to sit through. If anything, it makes it even more painful. It's embarrassing to see people as likable and as talented as Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan floundering as they try to coax even one guilty laugh out of audiences.

The film's title refers to the legal arena, in particular, divorce court. The queen of the New York legal arena is one Audrey Miller (Moore), who's never been beaten.

She's about to meet her match. Daniel Rafferty (Brosnan) has just settled in the Big Apple. And he's never been beaten in court, either.

To the surprise of almost no one, sparks of the romantic kind fly between the neurotic, uptight Audrey and the seemingly disorganized but roguish Daniel. That turns out to be something of a problem — especially when they find themselves on opposite sides of a messy celebrity divorce involving a philandering rock star (Michael Sheen) and his fashion designer wife (Parker Posey).

Director Peter Howitt's sluggish pacing makes this slight and unamusing trifle seem long (you'd never guess, but it's less than 90 minutes). And none of the dialogue is quotable or memorable.

Worse, Brosnan and Moore don't have as much chemistry as you'd think they would. They're tentative and uncomfortable around each other — not in keeping with their characters. And she, in particular, is forcing her performance.

About the only positive — aside from the Irish countryside shown all too briefly — is Frances Fisher, who plays Audrey's young-for-her-age mother.

"Laws of Attraction" is rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor (double-entendres and other references), scattered use of strong profanity, a brief sex scene (overheard), brief domestic violence (done for laughs), and brief drug content (references to drug use). Running time: 87 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com