Too cute, too star-studded and entirely too long, How Do You Know is a jocks' romance that offers more proof James L. Brooks has lost his fastball.
The director (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) serves up a quotable, scene-by-scene adorable love triangle that never amounts to anything more than a sweet nothing, an excuse to swoon over Reese Witherspoon the way Paul Rudd does as he tries to win her away from Owen Wilson.
Witherspoon is Lisa, an Olympic softball player who's been cut from the squad.
Wilson is Matty Reynolds, a pitcher with the Washington Nationals, a happy-go-lucky ladies' man who figures he's being "open and honest" when he offers Lisa her pick of toothbrushes and "walk of shame" sweat suits.
Paul Rudd plays George, the boss's son at a high- powered finance firm. His worst day coincides with Lisa's. He's a nice guy who has just been told he's under investigation by the feds for wire fraud. His bad day and her bad day are the perfect night for a contrived first date.
George moons over Lisa even as his world unravels and his life is swallowed by the threat of prison for a crime that neither he nor the viewer ever comes to grips with. He dodges bad news from his boss-dad (Jack Nicholson, funny, testy and fatherly, but trying too hard) and schemes to end up in the same room with Lisa. Lisa, having spent her life in the cloistered, focused world of athletics, doesn't know what love is. Is it the comfy company of the pitcher and the promise of vigorous jock-on-jock lovemaking? Or is it the considerate guy who listens to her?
Brooks writes some wonderful, warm and funny scenes, and Rudd in particular makes the most of them. His physicality and ability to convey doe-eyed innocence serve the movie wonderfully. There's a delivery-room proposal, hysterical f-bomb laced rants by Nicholson and winsome, deflated grieving over the life her character has lost by Witherspoon. Wilson, as a low-key variation of his mellow fellow lover, is undeserving of the third-wheel status the film gives him.
There are many charming scenes — too many, as Brooks brings in Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as a psychotherapist for one throw-away moment, Mark Linn-Baker has another one-off scene and Kathryn Hahn comes on as a sympathetic, pregnant secretary. And those too-many scenes and characters don't build a coherent, logical romance.
This is Brooks' Elizabethtown, with the writer-director wearing his heart on his sleeve but not knowing when to stop sewing the shirt.
Spend two hours with it and then ask, "Who learned what?" and "Who deserves what they got?" Those are questions How Do You Know can't seem to answer.