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Originally published Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'How Do You Know': A love triangle with too many dull points

A review of "How Do You Know," a bland comedy starring three likable performers: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

'How Do You Know,' with Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn. Written and directed by James L. Brooks. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language. Several theaters.

Agreeable but disappointingly bland, James L. Brooks' latest comedy "How Do You Know" is the story of three 30-somethings who aren't looking for love, but find something like it. Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a softball player who, unexpectedly dumped from her team, wanders into a relationship with Matty (Owen Wilson), a major league ballplayer and ladies' man. Meanwhile, George (Paul Rudd), a businessman reeling from accusations of financial impropriety at his company, has a blind date with Lisa and is increasingly drawn to her.

And ... well, not much happens over this movie's very leisurely two hours, except for a constant ringing of cellphones at perfectly timed moments in the script (it's a continual chirp in this movie, like birds on a rural morning). Lisa realizes that Matty doesn't really "get" her, and he doesn't; his character is perfectly summed up by his line "Why do girls always look so pretty the minute they're not sure of you?" But he's honest about his shallowness, just as George's father Charles (Jack Nicholson, seemingly using one of those cellphones to dial in his performance), who runs the company, is honest if unconcerned about his moral failings. All of these people talk a great deal about what they want; you can guess pretty early on whether they get it.

There's something pleasantly old-fashioned about this very talky movie, and the three main actors are all very likable. (Particularly Wilson, whose peculiar brand of warm spaciness is used to good effect here; you wonder whether this guy has ever fully woken up.) But, as in "Spanglish," Brooks is off his game; all that talking doesn't add up to much, and the characters seem oddly disconnected from each other, as if they're each starring in a different movie. How do you know when a movie doesn't quite work? When you're ready to leave, long before the final kiss.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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