Life or Something Like It
Rated PG-13, 97 min. Directed by Stephen Herek. Starring Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Tony Shalhoub, Christian Kane, James Gammon, Stockard Channing, Melissa Errico.
Let's play an association game. Angelina Jolie is to Life or Something Like It as Tiffany's is to a suburban strip mall. Clarification: Just as a Tiffany's outpost doesn't quite fit sandwiched between Subway and the Container Store, Jolie, too, is obviously a class above this thoroughly pedestrian romantic dramedy. That said, the film doesn't grub her down -- it'd take a lot to do that; instead, Jolie uplifts Life, even inspires it. Director Stephen Herek's film never gets close enough to Jolie's heavenly stature to do much more than merely paw at her hem, but Life at least deserves a nod for supplying the mostly dramatic actress with her first starring comedic role. The jokes -- not the tartest apples in the barrel -- provide sustenance enough on which Jolie can clamp down with that much ballyhooed kisser of hers and dig in. Dig in she does, affecting a remarkable transformation from her public persona (grungy goddess of weird mating rituals and Academy Awards fame) into the role of Lanie Kerrigan, a Prada-pumped and bottled-blond Seattle TV reporter. Ferociously ambitious, Lanie's looking to graduate from her local morning talk show to the big leagues of network news. Ah, but too much ambition is never a desirable quality in a Hollywood leading lady, so you know Lanie's bound to get knocked down a few pegs. Prophet Jack, a homeless man-cum-fortune teller (played by an underused Shalhoub), goes beyond a few pegs and foresees 6 feet under: In between predicting hailstorms and the next Seahawks spread, he announces Lanie's impending demise, but a short week away. That kind of plot device demands a massive character arc, and Jolie has fun morphing from Lanie's TV personality (Jackie O. smart suits coupled with Marilyn cleavage and coif) into a shaken woman who, when staring down death, regresses to the Social Distortion T-shirts and Oreo binges of her adolescence, back before she had chiseled herself into plastic-doll perfection. That alone -- one woman's journey to self-discovery -- would have sufficed, but then, Hollywood doesn't like its women journeying alone. Enter Pete, the sexy/scruffy cameraman (Burns). In an initially ancillary role, Pete is an amusing counterpoint to Lanie's prim pulchritude, but when asked to sidestep into a romantic leading man, Burns' character loses his edge, melts from bad boy into blandness. Not to mention blandness with bad hair: Sexy/scruffy's one thing, but a mullet's going too far. With Life, Herek can scribble in another solid job to his résumé, already chockablock with good -- not great -- work (Rock Star, Mighty Ducks, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure). But solid sounds pretty measly compared to the many talents of Jolie, and Herek, a UT grad, almost blows even that in the film's final third, where he loses the pulse to the film's thrumming beat-the-clock refrain and founders from genre to genre (woman in crisis, slapstick comedy, tear-jerking love story), trying each one on to see how it fits. They all do, more or less, in a personality-disorder sort of way. Jolie does an able job hopscotching along, and no doubt she'll skip away with all the good press. If nothing else, Jolie proves you can take the Tiffany's out of Fifth Avenue, but you can't take the Fifth Avenue out of Tiffany's. Or something like it.
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