What makes the experience more frustrating is that Brooks (As Good As It Gets) has a great eye for comic observation. The story of George (Rudd) and Lisa (Witherspoon) starts well with an amusing cold call from him to her, explaining that - although they have never met or even spoken - he feels obliged to break a potential date suggested by their mutual friend. George is already dating a hard-nosed career woman, but soon resolves to call Lisa back after she fails to stand by him when he's investigated for fraud.
Lisa barely gives George a second thought, all-consumed with her ranking in pro-softball. She's also casually dating baseball star Matty (Owen Wilson), the kind of guy who thinks he's being a good host by keeping a stock of pink tracksuits (in all sizes!) for the girls who end up staying the night. In an unlikely twist, Lisa decides to build her life around Matty after being cut from the team. His earnest efforts to settle down provide more amusement (he promises only to indulge in "anonymous sex" with other women) but his failings also highlight her own lack of depth.
Brooks makes much of Lisa's dependence on sports psychology but without getting to the root of the problem. It means that her short-sightedness - part of which is failing to recognise her true soulmate - becomes exasperating to watch. She keeps crossing paths with George after an awful first date, because his father Charles (Jack Nicholson) resides in the same building as Matty. The father-son relationship is equally fraught with Charles also being George's boss and selfishly making him the scapegoat for his dodgy dealings in the Middle East.
Again, this subplot is long, drawn-out and not honestly dealt with. Nicholson might appear to be underused except that his performance is as absent as Charles's moral code. Even more superfluous is Matty's friendship with his pregnant assistant (a deranged Kathryn Hahn) who fears losing her job in the legal fallout. Much incident prompts a lot of soul-searching, but with characters so thinly drawn, it's a tall order for the actors to dig up any truth. Rudd comes the closest to it, being the most emotionally vulnerable of the characters, but the drama is soapy.
As with Brooks's last film, Spanglish (2004), it lacks a sharp enough focus, rambling instead with occasional funny moments and a tear or two shed in regret. But it's all a bit of a slog and, in the end, you don't know much more than you did at the start.
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