After six years away from cinemas, it is not surprising that Oscar-winning writer-director James L Brooks' ('Terms of Endearment', 'Broadcast News', 'As Good As It Gets') latest romantic comedy is a little rusty. While not as bad as his last outing, 'Spanglish', 'How Do You Know' asks all the wrong questions, and is a long way from his compelling work on 'The Simpsons'. The punctuation in the title isn't the only thing missing in this half-hearted and badly written comedy-drama.

Lisa (Witherspoon) is a 31-year-old professional softball player who finds herself professionally and emotionally trapped when she is cut from the team roster. Not knowing what to do with herself, Lisa looks for comfort in Matty (Wilson), a self-centred narcissist who pitches for the Washington Nationals. Soon fed up with his womanising ways, a rather perplexed Lisa agrees to go on a blind date set up by one of her ex-teammates.

In comes George (Rudd). He is an unfailingly decent business executive who has become the target of a federal tax fraud investigation thanks to his father's (Nicholson) dodgy work doings. Despite George being everything that Lisa is looking for and more, she decides to stay with Matty in the hope that he will see the error of his ways. However, a determined George refuses to give up easily, and so the lacklustre love triangle begins.

Owen Wilson is the highlight of this movie, doing a variation of almost every character he's ever played - but he adds a bit more zest and cheekiness to the role. Similarly, Rudd is his usual likable self, but it makes zero sense as to why his character is attracted to Lisa.

Witherspoon looks radiant and does the best she can with her unforgiving role, but her character is shallow, and not nearly as rich as one might hope. It is Nicholson's storyline that has the least depth, giving his performance the feeling of trying to make something out of nothing.

'How Do You Know' produces a handful of mild laughs, nearly all of them featured in the trailer. It fails in almost every sequence, offering tedious moments where nothing seems to happen. The actors also seem awkward around each other, and Brooks' badly written gags don't make the situation any better.

The pacing is agonising throughout and each scene seems to be more long-winded and drawn out than the previous one. The key scene that features Lisa and George eating spaghetti in complete silence really is as good as it gets.

The only question you should ask yourself before you sit down to view this mind-numbing flick is: 'How do you know when the film is over, when you have fallen asleep in the first 30 minutes?'

Laura Delaney