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Cinema Signal: Disconnected, repetitive, poorly directed but don't let that bother you if you can't say no to a romantic comedy.
. "How Do You Know"

It isn't easy to write a good romantic comedy and writer/director James L. Brooks does NOT show us how to do it. It's been called a sloppy mess but, >surprise!!!< I found it a little better than that. It's somewhat like a sinking boat in which the pilot can't swim, faces a heavy chop, and somehow gets to shore.

For starters, there's no one here who acts anything like what we'd recognize as normal. In the first act, there's enough stuttering, false moves and mis-timing to almost qualify for a SNL skit. It's a good thing that these actors have long lists of great work on which to base a reputation or they'd be trolling for handouts.

But, somehow... and don't ask me to explain it... if you ignore the unbelievable faults, like Jack Nicholson ("The Bucket List") getting embarrassingly tongue tied and disconnected as Charles Madison, the CEO of a large company, laughs emerge. I don't presume to analyze how it could happen but, apparently, the concept of a hot blond getting bizarrely involved with a softball pitcher with a 94 mph speedball and a dippy corporate executive (Paul Rudd, "Dinner for Schmucks" as George, Nicholson's son and heir), an acorn who hasn't fallen far from the tree (which, as an actor, isn't bad.)

Reese Witherspoon ("Walk the Line") is Lisa Jorgenson, an elite athlete and star of the national women's softball league who gets cut from her team for reasons not entirely explained other than it provides us a babe at loose ends about her future and prone to buy a guy's apologies for womanizing conduct.

George, an executive of limited importance at dad's firm has just had his world and easy comforts blown by a bomb from the SEC. He, personally, is being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for securities fraud. Having done no wrong, he denies he's done anything wrong, and he's mystified why he's been named. Clearly, he's the object of false incrimination and he has some suspicions about who the real culprit might be. (See act three)

One guy who isn't at all anxious about his future is Matty (Owen Wilson, "The Darjeeling Limited") who is living the high life of a $14 mil pitcher for the Washington Nationals. As the most simple-minded of the three people whose paths haven't crossed yet, he's too much of an over-capitalized goof ball to worry about anything except where his next lay is coming from. But he's so sure of his endless lineup that his idea of chivalry is having a closet full of brand new women's dresses to offer his conquests to go home in the morning in instead of the one from the evening before.

Of course, Lisa Jorgenson falls into this honor and she's none too pleased. When she's fixed up with a date with George, that doesn't go well, either. But... on reflection... both guys later realize that this girl is constantly on their limited minds--in a serious way. Matty gets the inside track. She's almost oblivious to George until he makes his feelings clear. But, as Lisa Jorgenson will ask time and time again... How do you know?

By the second act of this silly comedy the cast gets a handle on their assignments and take the willing in the audience into their characters and their styles of ineptitude. Due mostly to Witherspoon's adorability (she doesn't expose much but with little effort she could be such a sexpot), Rudd's innate charm well employed and Wilson's misdirected bravado, at least half the film plays out at an acceptable level of amusement until its excessively repeated indecisions makes you hanker for the fast forward. This happens well before you reach the two hour mark.

Actors aren't the only ones in this production to come down to the level called for by the nature of the genre. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (a href="indiana4.htm?howknow" target=_blank>"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), who is far better than the highly plasticized look of a romantic comedy, turns in about the most generic job of lighting he's ever done. But, his reputation is safe with me.

The blame for this goes with some credit for a degree of humor that gives the sinking boat a bilge pump and the romantic masses a tow line.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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This is the guy I thought I'd wind up with?
Owen Wison and Reese Witherspoon as Matty the pitcher
and Lisa Jorgenson the girl who wants to know how.

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