James L. Brooks’ latest, How Do You Know has its moments, but overall it’s a meandering, lazy (cue some jaunty music to accentuate those nonexistent laughs) romantic comedy with a sprinkling of social commentary. The plot in a nutshell: fading athlete Reese Witherspoon (cut from the US team in softball) is caught in a romantic triangle between very rich baseball player Owen Wilson and naïve, innocent corporate exec Paul Rudd who’s been set up to take the fall for falsifying financial documents. An overacting Jack Nicholson plays his father (no points for guessing who set Rudd up to take the fall).
While Miss Witherspoon is generally a charmer, she really doesn’t have much of a character to play, so it’s hard to get caught up in her romantic/life dilemma-in fact, everyone else is given a type to play with very few shadings: likable, if insensitive jock; sincere, fumbling exec; dictatorial boss/father. The outcome of the triangle is never in doubt-although you wonder what any of these characters would see in anyone else. That being said, Wilson has some good scenes with Witherspoon; Rudd is amiably sincere (if not all that interesting or believable) as the put-upon exec; Nicholson’s performance is so overbearing that’s it’s one of the few times one wishes for less Jack in the film—or at least a return to an earlier, more subtle Jack.