If you heard that director James L. Brooks ("Broadcast News") was teaming up with Steven Spielberg's favorite cinematographer (Janusz Kaminski) for a brand new movie budgeted as $120 million, wouldn't you expect something more than a romantic comedy built almost entirely on static conversation scenes?
So it's probably a good thing "How Do You Know" took a different marketing route.
Brooks is like the comedy Terrence Malik - he lets years float by in between projects only to re-emerge just when the world threatens to forget about them. It's been seven years since "Spanglish," but we're sorry to say that Brooks hasn't used that time to sharpen his considerable comedy skills. Not that "How Do You Know" is bad - the relationships are just complicated enough to keep your interest, and a few jokes land with Brooks' trademark dryness perfectly delivered - it's just not very remarkable for a director who made something like "Broadcast News" that isn't just hilarious, but almost chilling and oddly prescient when you watch it today.
The biggest victim of "How Do You Know's" mediocrity is star Reese Witherspoon. Saddled with a love triangle alongside two actors not asked to do anything they haven't done in a million other movies ("Paul Rudd, you play nice and nebbish, Owen Wilson, you play cocky and dim"), she's forced to dig deep to make her former softball player turned lost soul something resembling a likable human. And she does. Her first date with Rudd's character is a great scene deserving of a less "meh" overall movie. Not to mention an often excruciatingly long and, um, "casually paced" (121 minutes) "meh" movie. Oh, and after this and his overly hammy performance in "The Departed," is it safe to start adding Jack Nicholson alongside DeNiro and Pacino in the pantheon of the once great, now phoning it in?
The special features on offer are pretty expected (Blooper Reels? Is there anything you can't do?), but we'd suggest checking out the feature commentary with Brooks and Kaminski. It's not often you get the guy who shot one of the greatest, most epic battle sequences in film history (the opening of "Saving Private Ryan") discussing his struggles with shooting a rom-com.
Overall, "How Do You Know" ends up being much like its title - generic, easily forgotten, and slapped together without a real eye for sharper details (like, say, a question mark).