How Do You Know
James L. Brooks
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson
Rating: **1/2

This off-kilter romance by the painstaking James L. Brooks is so eager to ask the question about true love, it doesn’t have time to mess with boring punctuation.

It’s set in and about the stately avenues of Washington, D.C., with some stealth stand-ins from Philadelphia. This isn’t the most obvious burg for romance, but it works as the abode of the non-stellar baseball teams that hard-driving Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) and horn-dogging Matty (Owen Wilson) play for.

They make two-thirds of an accidental love triangle, the other third being George (Paul Rudd), a neurotic businessman who is about to have a visit from Uncle Sam. George’s dad and business partner Charles (Jack Nicholson) has been engaging in securities fraud behind his son’s back.

Lisa, an athletic has-been at 31, has just been dropped by her softball team. George has been dumped by his girlfriend and may soon be making new pals in a federal hotel. Charles has to decide whether to sell out his son or make plans for the slammer. And Matty is just horny and confused.

How Do You Know is probably best described as screwball comedy — and Witherspoon’s Lisa really is screwy. More practical than romantic, she’s perplexed over which of her accidental suitors she should keep.

Should it be sexist piglet Matty, or fussy fumbler George?

Lisa recklessly opts for both doors No. 1 and No. 2, and while you know it’s going to end sweetly, at least it’s least high-grade treacle.

The best moments of the film aren’t those where the protagonists are engaging in smart Brooksian banter, which these four pros are all more than capable of delivering. It’s the scenes of awkward silence, where you can see gears grinding in the mental machinery.

Extras include deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a making-of featurette and a commentary track that includes Brooks.

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