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How Do You Know

How Do You Know

Rated PG-13, 120 min. Directed by James L. Brooks. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker, Lenny Venito.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 17, 2010

How do you know when you're in love? It's been a while for me, but I remember having a powerful urge to upchuck. In the same vein, professional softball player Lisa (Witherspoon) wears a pinched, pained expression whenever she contemplates the idea of loving George (Rudd), an unfailingly decent businessman of some vaguely defined sort, who is currently under federal investigation. It's hard, as a viewer, not to shudder in tandem with Lisa – this isn't a love match, it's two would-be motivational coaches swapping slogans. But wait! There's another bachelor behind Door No. 2: Matty (Wilson), a Nationals ballplayer and consummate baller whose nervous negotiations with monogamy mark some of the funnier moments in this disappointingly slack comedy from writer/director Brooks. How Do You Know isn't a bomb by any means, but it is bewildering how something so downy and limp could come from a sharpshooter like Brooks (Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets). Lisa and George are both in crisis – she's a world-class athlete aging out of her profession, he's looking at serious jail time for a crime he didn't commit – but there's no urgency to their situations, no conflict to the conflict. (Despite mining it as a significant subplot, Brooks doesn't even bother articulating the basics of George's professional problems, or even what exactly it is he does for a living.) The pacing, too, is all off, with jokes that hit in the preview trailer growing baggy from protraction. Brooks never supplies a definitive answer to the open-ended title – there are pretty speeches, sure, especially from a wet-eyed Rudd – but I think most everybody would agree you just know when it's right. And in the case of How Do You Know, when it's not.
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