[Screen It]

"HOW DO YOU KNOW"
(2010) (Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: When she's cut from a professional softball team, a young woman finds herself torn between her womanizing, professional baseball player boyfriend and an unsure corporate officer who's under federal scrutiny for business wrongdoing.
PLOT:
Lisa (REESE WITHERSPOON) is a professional softball player who's been a jock most of her life to the point that she only dates other athletes. Her latest boyfriend is Matty (OWEN WILSON), a professional baseball player who's confident in his womanizing ways, but thinks he might be falling for Lisa and thus asks her to move in with him.

Corporate man Charles (JACK NICHOLSON) also lives in that same building, but his focus is on a federal subpoena that's been served to his adult son, George (PAUL RUDD), who runs the daily operations of their company but is surprised by the charges leveled against him. The same holds true for his very pregnant but single assistant, Annie (KATHRYN HAHN), who doesn't like the way Charles treats George.

Having been set up on an unscheduled blind date by her friend and fellow player, Lisa ends up going to dinner with George, but with his confidence shaken, he doesn't make much of an impression on her. Then again, when she's cut from her team, she ends up in the same boat. From that point on, and despite wanting to remain as Matty's girlfriend, Lisa must choose between him and George and the various bits of emotional and behavioral baggage they bring to the romantic quandary.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Like most things in life, filmmaking is a collaborative enterprise. Sure, there's the director who's in charge as the top dog, along with producers who handle the financing and logistics, and the occasional star who gets too big for their britches and believes they can start calling the shots. For the most part, however, there are many cogs and other moving parts that all have to work in harmony and usually at the top of their game to produce a film that most would consider good and sometimes great.

Taking all of that -- as well as the money and time involved -- into consideration, it's a wonder we ever get any movies that fall into the above categories. At the same time, though, I often ask myself how so many films can range from mediocre to bad considering the talent, months or years, and millions of dollars that are in play.

The answer of "How do you know if it's going to be any good?" boils down pretty much to one thing and that's the script. No amount of moola, star power or committed time on the part of many, however, can turn a lackluster to poor screenplay into anything above those substandard levels.

Granted, it's not unusual for scripts to change mid-stream via rewrites, ad-libbing and more, but for the most part, if a script is good, those involved will have to work mighty hard to screw things up. Having not read any draft (first, final, shooting, etc.) of "How Do You Know," I can't attest to its level of quality. I can only hope there was something more to it (and that presumably caused those in front of and behind the camera to sign up) than what finally shows up on the screen.

Slow when it should be snappy and fragmented and unfocused when it should be crystal clear considering that not that many characters are in play, the film comes from the hands (and eyes) of writer/director James L. Brooks. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he's the filmmaker responsible for "As Good as It Gets," "Broadcast News" and "Terms of Endearment" as well as a host of well-known and superb TV shows over the years ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi," etc.).

It's possible that his name and reputation alone (that includes turning out quality products, and garnering lots of award nominations for his cast members) lured in all of those involved, and maybe the script read better on paper than it plays out in filmed form. Whatever the case, this is not Brooks at the top of his game. Which also holds true for Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson, and their respective performances in this production.

Witherspoon (good in other pics but feeling off here) plays a pro softball player who must contend with being cut from her team, all while dating a professional baseball player (embodied by Wilson doing his usual shtick, but his character is so comfortable in his womanizing ways that he gets some decent laughs from his honest responses to various questions and situations).

Her attention is somewhat diverted by George (Rudd, not up to his usual high standards of comedy), a corporate man whose world has been rocked by a federal investigation aimed at him. It doesn't help that his father (Nicolson, acting like he's distracted and/or would rather be somewhere else) is giving him a hard time, something the younger man's pregnant assistant (a good Kathryn Hahn) can't stand to watch.

The comedy and drama are supposed to stem from their interactions with each other, but the problem is that not enough of it's funny (though there are some amusing moments from time to time) while the drama doesn't have much oomph behind any of it (and those scenes oddly take 2 to 3 times longer than they should to play out). Thus, little if anything feels fresh, let alone novel, and the slow pace only makes the entire production feel that much more laborious.

That's not to say there aren't some nice moments (especially a hospital scene featuring Hahn and her baby's daddy that has to be redone due to "technical difficulties") and various amusing bits in terms of both dialogue and behavior. But there aren't enough of them to carry the pic and thus they can't keep the production afloat.

So, how do I know "How Do You Know" doesn't feature Brooks or his cast doing their best? Well, beyond the aforementioned, the sound of seat shuffling and exasperated sighs from other viewers usually only means one thing. Not horrible but just slow and failing to do anything new with well-trod material, the film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 13, 2010 / Posted December 17, 2010


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