Review: How Do You Know
PLOT: A former Olympic-class softball player (Reese Witherspoon), is torn between two men; a randy, baseball superstar (Owen Wilson), and a kindly businessman (Paul Rudd) whos in trouble with the authorities after being accused of wire fraud at his fathers (Jack Nicholson) company.
REVIEW: HOW DO YOU KNOW is at least two movies too many. Its the latest from James L. Brooks, who has admittedly produced some gems in his time (TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, BROADCAST NEWS, AS GOOD AS IT GETS), but has also been known to falter badly (ILL DO ANYTHING- which was originally a musical prior to a disastrous test-screening, and the recent SPANGLISH).
Costing a reported $120 Million, HOW DO YOU KNOW (the lack of a question mark in the title drives me CRAZY!!!) seems like a throw-back to mid-nineties star-driven comedy dramas that were all the rage at one point. This certainly would seem to be in Brooks wheelhouse, and he did some of the best films of that ilk, but times have changed. Theres no longer a fleet of sure-fire stars, with even former A-listers like Julia Roberts no longer guaranteed to lock in boffo box office. Thats a lesson learned the hard way just last week with THE TOURIST, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Coincidently, HOW DO YOU KNOW comes from the same studio: Sony.
Watching the film, it boggles the mind how it could have cost so much. Top dollar was obviously paid to all the stars, but if Nicholson indeed got the $12 million for the role thats been reported, its an incredible waste as hes only on-screen for maybe twenty minutes. Tech-credits are also filled with heavy-hitters, but you wonder why Brooks would bring in someone like Hans Zimmer to do the score, when it adds up to is sitcommy wallpaper? Or having Janusz Kaminski be the DP, when the thing is over lit like an old episode of HAPPY DAYS.
But onto the film itself and why HOW DO YOU KNOW is at least two movies too many
It seems like Brooks was trying really hard to make HOW DO YOU KNOW more than just another rom-com, by inserting a ripped from the headlines side plot about corporate greed, but its dealt with in such an offhand manner that you wonder why he bothered. Yet, at least its interesting, but sadly, its not what the movie is about. This is a Reese Witherspoon star vehicle through and through, but her whole relationship with Owen Wilson (who pretty much plays his, laid-back and horny, stock role) feels like it could have been jettisoned. Shes not a bad actress, and shes fine in the film (and looks radiant throughout), but her material is just not interesting.
As for Rudd, I like the guy! But, he goes way off-base here, with him seemingly improvising every other scene by either spontaneously breaking out into song, a la I LOVE YOU MAN, or doing a bit of slapstick. Still, he remains likable, but hes playing such a saintly, clear-cut victim that hes not terribly interesting. As for his subplot, the resolution involving his father (Jack playing Jack- meaning lots of yelling, and the only two fucks in the film) is a joke- literally. I cant imagine why the resolution would be played for comic effect, when this could have been the one scene to give the film a little heft.
Theres also another terribly extraneous subplot about Rudds pregnant assistant whos struggling with drama in her own personal life, as well as pangs of guilt at Rudds legal situation. It all resolves itself in the big emotional set piece, which is wasted on a supporting character, and should have happened for one of the leads!
That said, at least HOW DO YOU KNOW isnt another SPANGLISH. That film actually made me angry, but this never had me feeling anything worse than bored, which I suppose is an improvement. It also had a few good scenes, such as a nice piece of dialogue from Mark Linn-Baker (PERFECT STRANGERS!!!) who plays Nicholsons lawyer, but pauses to give Rudd some good advice on accepting his situation. Its the only part of the movie that really resonated for me, but I suppose that proves that Brooks is still capable of some fine character work. Hopefully hell rebound with his next film, as the guy who made BROADCAST NEWS, and produced THE SIMPSONS deserves to survive a few flops.
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|Extra Tidbit:||If they ever do another FLETCH, Paul Rudd is THE ONLY choice.|