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How Do You Know

Dir/scr: James L Brooks. US. 2010.121mins

It’s been six year since James L Brooks’ last film project (2004 dramedy Spanglish) and the meticulous writer-director’s How Do You Know isn’t worth the wait. Straining for a fresh take on its subject - true love and how to find it - but only occasionally sparking into life, this halfhearted romantic comedy will need all the star power leant to it by Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson if it is to attract more than a mid-sized audience and recoup its reported $100m-plus budget.

Even Nicholson’s usually scene-stealing bluster can’t get this disappointing addition to the Brooks filmography going.

The Sony release opens domestically on December 17 and in that pre-Christmas slot, the same slot given to the underperforming Spanglish and Brooks’ 1997 smash As Good As It Gets, it will at least have the advantage of being the crowded holiday season’s only real romcom. The marquee names will certainly be the big draw when the film has its international rollout in January and February. 

Though structured as a love triangle with a father-son subplot, Brooks’ script focusses most on Witherspoon’s Lisa, a perky 31-year-old whose life revolves around playing softball for the US national team.

When she’s dropped by the team’s new male coach, Lisa throws herself into an affair with professional baseball player Matty (Wilson), a fun but dim ladies man. Then she meets George (Rudd), a straight-arrow businessman who’s just been hit by a charge of financial misdealing at the firm built by his roguish father (Nicholson).

All four characters seem to have the potential to turn into characteristically shaded Brooks personae but none develops enough to hold interest as the story unfolds. And only a handful of the mostly one-on-one scenes through which Brooks tells the story deliver any comedic snap or emotional punch.

The actors work hard - sometimes too hard - to sell the material, but even Nicholson’s usually scene-stealing bluster can’t get this disappointing addition to the Brooks filmography going.

Production companies: Columbia Pictures, Gracie Films

Worldwide distributor: Sony

Producers: Paula Weinstein, Laurence Mark, James L Brooks, Julie Ansell.

Executive producers: John D Schofield, Richard Sakai

Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski

Production designer: Jeannine Oppewall

Editors: Richard Marks, Tracey Wadmore-Smith

Music: Hans Zimmer

Website: www.howdoyouknow-movie.com

Main cast: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson

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