How do you know when a film is horrible? When it’s “How Do You Know,” it’s pretty obvious.
Nothing about this would-be romantic comedy ever gels – neither the romance nor the comedy and, worst of all, not the characters.
Individually likable under ordinary circumstances, Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd make zero sense together here as a couple.
Similarly, the dueling story lines that comprise the script feel slammed together, so the film as a whole never finds a groove – which only accentuates the fact that it’s overlong.
Most shockingly of all, “How Do You Know” comes from someone who should know better: writer-director James L. Brooks, who’s repeatedly proven himself more than capable of finding just the right tone in films like “Broadcast News,” “As Good As It Gets” and his multiple Oscar-winner “Terms of Endearment.”
Witherspoon is a beacon of perky determination as Lisa, a longtime professional softball player who suddenly finds herself cut from the U.S. team at age 31.
Not knowing what to do with herself, she bounces back and forth between Matty (Owen Wilson), a stud pitcher for the Washington Nationals (a bit of casting that isn’t believable for one second), and George (Rudd), a corporate executive under federal investigation for financial crimes he didn’t commit.
The movie similarly bounces back and forth between Lisa’s boyfriend confusion and George’s attempts to clear his name with help from his extremely pregnant assistant (Kathryn Hahn) and without much help from his short-tempered father, played by Jack Nicholson.
Nicholson, who won Oscars for “As Good As It Gets” and “Terms of Endearment,” appears in maybe a half-dozen scenes, tops, and looks completely uncomfortable and uninterested the whole time.
Wilson, as an arrogant, womanizing jock, delivers a version of the confident but clueless goofball he so frequently plays. Rudd’s George, meanwhile, goes all soft and gooey early and often, falling for Lisa out of nowhere after an awkward blind date.
The comic edge that makes Rudd so appealing is gone; it doesn’t help his cause that treacly music pipes in every time he says something even slightly meaningful. Because otherwise, how would we know it’s meaningful?