Life or Something Like It
review by Paula Nechak, 10 May 2002

In the pensive and uncharacteristically thoughtful 1990 Woody Allen morality play, Crimes and Misdemeanors a pompous, pontificating television executive, played with spread-on genial smarm by Alan Alda, tells the camera that "comedy equals tragedy plus time." It's a conceit that works well both historically and theoretically, but not always in the movies. So while I dislike bashing a film that visually mythologizes the city in which I live,  I must say that director Stephen Herek has sculpted a soulless, thudding "comedy" called Life or Something Like It that in its fairy-tale fumbling, has neither comedy nor tragedy but far too much running time. This is the kind of movie (or something like it) that trivializes its purported deep message about the human condition and how we must wake up to possibility yet panders to the most mindless sort of metaphysical babble, stifling in its simplistic predictability, sophomoric message and tail-wagging earnestness.

Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie wrests herself from her goth image, pouring her lean and lithe body into the persona of buxom, bubble-brained (and headed) platinum blonde Seattle reporter Lainie Kerrigan. Lainie sports a Marilyn Monroe-do, extra tight designer duds, and supposedly has a flair for smart repartee as she's given complete license to improvise her soft city-beat stories by her station managers. She's so good, the film winkingly tells us, that her boss is sending her resume tape to the Big Apple based morning show, "A.M. USA," who are scouting the country for a new anchorperson.

But Lainie, whose entire existence operates only as a calculated, well-oiled machine, receives a smashing setback when she's told by a homeless "prophet" that she will die in one week.  When several of his other visions come to pass Lainie spirals, dumping her dumb Seattle Mariners fiance, doing a story on transit strikers drunk on her ass, and seeking solace in a down to earth cameraman named Pete (Ed Burns), with whom she verbally spars each time they're assigned a story.

The hits and plot points of Life or Something Like It are so unsurprising and patterned that the film emerges as a Pretty Woman with an alternately media-tech and New Age mindset. While Seattle is given a great film veneer onscreen (eschewing the grit and dirt of urban sprawl) it's a bit surprising that the script by Dana Stevens (she also wrote the Michael Apted directed thriller Blink and the Meg Ryan/Nicolas Cage starrer City of Angels) labors so intensely to pass itself off as funny and so frequently misses its mark. It's light-weight fluff for sure, but when it's called upon to really make a statement, it instead opts to insult the viewer's intelligence by avoiding the initial issues that have been set in place. There's so little resonance and interior soul-searching to the character's journey that after receiving the news that she will be dead and gone in seven days Lainie's biggest revelation is, of all things - she really likes Pete!

Other more intriguing issues crash by the wayside in light of this astounding, didn't-see-it-coming fact; her brusque rivalry with her older sister is hinted at but slighted, as is a cool relationship with her dad.  In truth Lainie barely makes a gesture to endear herself to anyone. The film wants us to believe that she sees the light but she's a taker, self-absorbed and banal, wise-cracking and patronizing - and unprofessional to boot.

Jolie, a capable, charismatic actor in the right conditions, gives Lainie a smug and smirking uncaring and she only warms for a moment - right near the end when she's given her big opportunity to interview her role-model, a Barbara Walters-esque interviewer named Deborah Connors, played with aplomb by the great Stockard Channing. But even Connors winds up a harpie and Lainie is only sweet because the camera is rolling. Ultimately Ed Burns, in his toasty lumberjack grunge, lends the only soul in a grounded, everyman performance that at least gives a little weight to a story that's essentially a sound bite.

Like the age we live in, Life or Something Like It refuses to take responsibility for itself, its characters or even  a hint of basic research about the business in which these people profit. Someone should have pulled the plug on this travesty a long while before a prophet's warning pulls the rug from Lainie's misguided and blind ambition and all of that which unfortunately passes for something like a wincingly insipid and uninspired story.

Directed by:
Stephen Herek

Starring:
Angelina Jolie
Edward Burns
Tony Shalhoub
Christian Kane
James Gammon
Melissa Errico
Stockard Channing
Lisa Thornhill
Gregory Itzin

Written by:
John Scott Shepherd

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.

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