LAWS OF ATTRACTION The 1950 comedy Adam's Rib cast Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as husband-and-wife lawyers who end up on opposite sides of a major case; Laws of Attraction clearly hopes to be its modern-day equivalent, but it's so inconsequential, it wouldn't even cut it as Adam's Hangnail. That's a shame, because the star pairing of Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore promises much more than the movie delivers. Moore stars as a hotshot New York divorce lawyer who meets her match in a fellow attorney (Brosnan) who has recently relocated from the West Coast. Antagonistic whenever they square off professionally, they soon discover the mutual attraction that blossoms away from the courthouse. Brosnan is as casually charismatic as always, while Moore, taking a break from award-friendly projects, gleefully throws herself into her change-of-pace role. They're an engaging team, which makes it all the more frustrating that they're let down by a trite screenplay. With nothing to work with, director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) can do little to establish any sense of a screwball pace, leaving his actors stranded in a project that would be unbearable without their presence. For an infinitely better movie concerning love among divorce lawyers, rent last year's overlooked Coen Brothers comedy Intolerable Cruelty.
MAN ON FIRE Was director Tony Scott accidentally trapped in a washing machine at some point during his childhood, leaving him traumatized for life? The majority of his movies resemble nothing so much as a view from a rinse cycle, with frenetic editing and murky camerawork combining to create motion pictures whose incoherent visuals whiz by at top speed -- even if the storylines they're supporting take their sweet time unfolding. Man On Fire is a remake of a forgotten 1987 flick starring Scott Glenn; that version barely ran 90 minutes, and it's a sign of Scott's arrogance that this interminable revamping clocks in at 140 minutes. The movie starts off OK, with Denzel Washington effectively cast as a former government assassin whose constant boozing is interrupted once he agrees to serve as the bodyguard for an American girl (Dakota Fanning) living with her parents in Mexico City. Scott's meaningless stylistics immediately grate on the nerves, but the strong work by Washington and Fanning -- and the bond they create together -- cuts through all the hipster b.s. and draws us into the picture. But once the child is kidnapped and then believed to be dead (a mainstream movie killing off a blond, blue-eyed baby doll? As if!), Man On Fire turns into a tedious revenge yarn, with Washington's character glumly offing everyone involved with the snatch. Don't miss the concluding title card assuring viewers that Mexico City, seen as nothing but a haven of murder and corruption for 140 minutes, is actually "a very special place"! 1/2
THE PUNISHER One of the most popular of the latter-day (read: 1970s onward) Marvel Comics heroes, The Punisher first saw his exploits translated to film in a 1989 yarn starring Dolph Lundgren. That take was deemed so lowly that it bypassed theaters and went straight to video; now here comes the more polished and more expensive version, riding on the coattails of superhero blockbusters like Spider-Man and the X-Men pair. But about the best that can be said regarding this current model is that it's more watchable than April's other revenge flick, Man On Fire -- even if it's no less sadistic. Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher) stars as Frank Castle, an FBI agent finally able to spend some quality time with his wife (Samantha Mathis) and son. But his happiness is short-lived, as high-class criminal Howard Saint (John Travolta), who holds Castle responsible for his own son's death, orders the execution of Castle and his brood. And wouldn't you know it, the assassins turn up during the middle of a family reunion, meaning that over 30 people get gunned down instead of just three (did I mention that this movie's sadistic?). Miraculously, Castle survives the slaughter, and after setting up headquarters in a grungy apartment building populated by a lonely waitress (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and two annoying comic-relief characters (an overweight geek and a computer geek), he focuses on bringing down Saint and his empire. This is tolerable junk if viewed in the right frame of mind, if one is willing to overlook the poor dialogue, Travolta's colorless villain, and the ludicrously overplayed death scenes.
13 GOING ON 30 This buoyant comedy just might prove to be the launching pad for Jennifer Garner's higher ambitions, as she attempts to join the ranks of Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Bruce Willis and others who've managed to turn successful stints in television into even more successful careers in cinema. Starting off in 1987, the high-concept premise centers around 13-year-old Jenna Rink, an awkward girl whose only desire is to be "thirty, flirty and thriving." She magically gets her wish granted, waking up in 2004 at the age of 30 and not remembering anything that has transpired over the course of the last 17 years. For emotional support, she tracks down her best friend from childhood, now a freelance photographer (Mark Ruffalo), but as she begins to piece together her teenage and adult years, she realizes that she doesn't like the person she's become. The versatile star of Alias is irresistible here -- she possesses the flair and instincts of a screwball comedienne -- and if her performance ultimately isn't quite as moving as Tom Hanks' in the thematically similar Big, that might be because the script by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (the husband-and-wife team behind What Women Want) doesn't delve as deeply into the dark side of being a child trapped in a grownup's body. The catchy soundtrack, packed with 80s hits by the likes of Michael Jackson, Talking Heads and The Go-Go's, is obviously meant to support Jenna's claim that the beat has largely been missing from the music produced since then.