Life Or Something Like It

Movie Information

Genre: Romance Comedy
Director: Tephen Herek
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Tony Shalhoub, Christian Kane, Stockard Channing
Rated: PG-13

Since Life or Something Like It was directed by Stephen Herek, who gave us such gems as Rock Star and The Mighty Ducks, and written by John Scott Shepherd, whose only prior offense was the Tim Allen “feel-good” comedy Joe Somebody, saying that the film represents the best of either man’s work is hardly an unqualified rave. However, parts of Life or Something Like It are actually good. Unfortunately, those parts don’t add up to a good movie. I could have gotten its ultimate message by dragging out my mother’s old 78 of Al Jolson singing “Back in Your Own Backyard” and saved myself about 101 minutes of the movie’s 104 minute running time. Yep, Life or Something Like It is yet another in Hollywood’s long, long, long line of paeans of praise to underachievers. I’m always more than a little skeptical of the intent behind such things. Just as there’s a faint whiff of hypocrisy about the fact that songs about the virtues of being poor are invariably written and recorded by millionaires, there’s something suspect about Hollywood heavy-hitters preaching the gospel of the benefits of “the simple life.” The idea here is that Seattle TV news personality Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie, with a good 14 pounds of blonde hair) has it all — a thriving career; a perfect life; a basically good-natured, handsome, none-too-bright, high-profile fiance (Christian Kane), and a shot at The Big Time in New York City on AM USA. That’s what we see on the surface. The reality — at least according to the script — is that she’s not really happy at all, but that it’s going to take the prediction of her death by street soothsayer Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub) and the “life lessons” she gets from her sexy, attitudinally challenged cameraman, Pete (Edward Burns at his most chip-on-the-shoulder obnoxious), to realize this. You’ve seen it a hundred times and more. Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery made much the same movie — minus the big hair and Prophet Jack, but with considerably more wit — back in 1949 and it wasn’t a ground-breaking concept then. Unlike vintage wine, plots like this do not improve with age, especially when the best the filmmakers can concoct by way of teaching Lanie how to live involves having her get dead-drunk and conduct a TV interview in this state, only to end up leading a bunch of tone-deaf striking bus drivers in a sing-along of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” before waking up the next day in Pete’s bed and remembering nothing. The fact that this is a movie, however, means that her journalistic blunder puts her over the top and lands her that dream gig in New York City. Never mind that the film cheats shamelessly here, thanks to drowning out the ungodly catterwauling by fading up the actual Rolling Stones’ recording — not to mention that any TV station on earth would kill such a transmission in two seconds or under to keep from being sued by the Stones’ music publishers for copyright violations! The film adheres to formula and has self-righteous Pete fly into a snit, since taking the job in question puts a crimp in his romance with Lanie. Ah, but what of Prophet Jack’s prediction? That’s another matter and actually one of the brighter things about the movie, even if the viewer is apt to guess the trick well beforehand. The screenplay tips its hand once too often as concerns the nature of Jack’s predictions and gives the game away. Still, it’s a clever device, and even though it’s been critically bashed by some as a cheat, it’s not really far afield from the kind of trick employed by Mr. Shakespeare concerning his main character’s downfall in Macbeth — and almost no one complains about that. In any case, it’s much more surprising than the answer to whether or not Lanie will take that big job or find happiness and domestic bliss with Pete before the credits roll. After all, it’s just a movie … or something like it.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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