HOW DO YOU KNOW (12A)**

There is a moment in James L Brooks's overlong romantic comedy when one of the characters stops her dinner companion from gabbling incessantly and suggests they eat in total silence.

He obliges and for 30 blissful seconds, we're granted temporary respite from the greetings-card platitudes and psychiatrist-couch epithets, which seem to pass for conversation in How Do You Know.

The characters certainly talk a lot but they say very little, re-phrasing the same feelings and regrets until they finally get their point across.

Which is: All you need is love.

The Beatles conveyed the sentiment beautifully in fewer than four minutes, so it's a mystery why it takes Brooks two hours to come to the same startling conclusion.

His perky and neurotic heroine is Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), a star athlete on the USA Softball National Team.

Her entire life is invested in the sport and she wakes each morning to a sea of Post-it notes covered in motivational jargon on her bathroom mirror.

Unexpectedly cut from the team, Lisa's world implodes and she seeks sanctuary in the arms and bed of major league baseball pitcher and incorrigible ladies man, Matty (Owen Wilson).

During a brief pause in the relationship, Lisa goes on a first date with businessman George (Paul Rudd), just as he learns that he is being prosecuted for wire fraud.

As poor George comes to terms with his predicament and the likelihood of jail, and also works through his complicated relationship with his father (Jack Nicholson), Lisa re-evaluates her self-worth in the event that her dream of being a sporting champion is now over.

The date is disastrous but George is smitten.

When he finally plucks up the courage and finds the right words to tell Lisa how he feels, Matty wins her back and asks her to move in with him.

"I've never lived with anyone before," she replies dumbfounded.

"Great, no-one's had a chance to ruin you!" smirks Matty.

How Do You Know is a slight and predictable tale of modern day love, padded with sub-plots about father-son bonding, undeclared love and the frequency of buses in Washington DC.

Rudd has forged a successful career playing nice guy losers and he warmly hugs the stereotype here, sparking his best on-screen chemistry with Kathryn Hahn, who plays George's pregnant secretary.

Witherspoon is burdened with dialogue that could have been torn sentence by sentence from a self-help book.

In a laughable scene, Lisa visits a therapist (Tony Shalhoub) and he reveals that the best advice he can give any patient is: "Figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it."

If only Brooks practised what his character succinctly preaches then maybe we'd be spared 30 minutes of prevarication before an emotionally gooey finale that panders to hopeless romantics.

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