At the end of the wretched romantic comedy "Life or Something Like It,"
the audience at the preview screening applauded. They applauded. While I
fully recognize that my opinion is no more valid than that of the next
person, I still wanted to confront each member of the audience and say,
"What were you thinking? How in the world can you clap for such drivel?
Are your standards really that low?"
Instead, I sulked until the closing credits were over and walked out of
the theater in silence, slowly shaking my head in disbelief. "Life or
Something Like It" is the kind of romance that makes a life of solitude
seem attractive. It's the kind of life-affirming story that makes the
prospect of death a little less daunting. Just remembering the film is
making my temples throb.
The production stars two of my least favorite actors: Angelina Jolie,
who has the uncanny ability to appear glamorous and ghoulish at the same
time, and former independent film community flavor of the day Edward
Burns, who can suck the life out of a scene simply by loping into it.
If you've watched the trailers for the film, you know the whole story.
Actually, you know a bit more than the whole story, as the trailers
contain considerable footage that never turns up onscreen. Jolie plays
Lanie Kerrigan, a news reporter for a Seattle TV station. Despite the
fact that her hair is big enough for two country singers, Lanie is a hot
property. In fact, the network is considering her for a position on one
of their prime time news programs.
Everything turns upside down for the ultra-peppy young lass one morning
when she does a feature on a well-known area homeless man called Prophet
Jack (Tony Shalhoub). The crabby seer stares intently as Lanie squabbles
with her cameraman Pete (Burns, the designated love interest) and then
hears her wonder aloud if she will get the network job. "No, you won't,"
he says. "Tonight the Seahawks will win 19-13, tomorrow morning it will
hail, and on Thursday you will die. Sorry."
When the team wins by the predicted score and the hailstorm occurs,
Lanie gets all shook up. She fails to appear for a live interview with
striking transit workers and the station dispatches another reporter.
Then, at the last moment, Lanie shows up, apparently under the influence
of alcohol. Dressed in casual clothing, with her hair flattened out by a
baseball cap, she insists on doing the piece. On air, she cozies up to
one of the strikers and asks what forced him and his comrades to act. He
starts listing their complaints while she nods sympathetically.
Suddenly, she blurts out "When I was a little girl, my daddy taught me a
song that reminds me of this," and begins singing The Rolling Stones'
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Back at the studio, someone at the control panel moves to cut her off,
when the man in charge intones those immortal words, "No, let's see
where this is going." Apparently, the guy is also in charge of insuring
that no movie cliché gets overlooked in this flick. Within seconds,
Lanie has the whole group of burly strikers swaying back and forth with
her as they sing the song in unison. Finally, she wraps up her report,
blurting out an obscenity along the way.
The next morning, she wakes up at Pete's place with a tremendous
hangover. After he assures her that nothing happened sexually, she flips
on the TV and watches in horror as competing stations run bleeped
footage of her shenanigans. When Pete lets her know that the station
manager wants to see her at 9 a.m., she gets up dejectedly and mutters,
"Well, I guess it's time to go to the station and get fired." Lanie
arrives at the station and walks into the newsroom, where (get ready for
this) everyone jumps out and shouts, "Surprise!" Her grinning boss
strides past the cake and says, "Congratulations, you got the job! The
network saw what you did and they loved it! They want you in New York
Just for fun, I called the news directors at several local TV stations
and asked what would happen if Lanie had worked for them and pulled the
same stunt. To a person, they assured me that her report would have been
cut off the second she began acting erratically. Had the report somehow
made it on the air, Lanie would have been suspended immediately pending
an investigation and she most likely would end up getting fired. As for
the network job, there was no way in hell that any of the networks would
hire a reporter so clearly out of control.
I guess that means there wouldn't be any cake, either.
Of course, reality has nothing to do with "Life or Something Like It."
Not a second of this sloppy production feels real. The situations are
absurd (check out the lack of medical equipment during a scene set in a
hospital patient's room), there is zero chemistry between Jolie and
Burns, and a subplot involving Lanie fighting with her sister for the
affection of their father feels slapped on. The resolution of the
sibling jealousy business makes no sense, as statements made run counter
to behaviors clearly observed earlier in the movie. For that matter, the
resolution of the main plotline is awfully shaky as well.
Almost as cheesy as the "Satisfaction" scene is Lanie's first network
assignment, a live (natch) interview with a tough-as-nails Barbara
Walters-type played by Stockard Channing. I'll spare you the painful
details. Suffice to say, Lanie works her unique magic again and several
people around me were moved to tears by the "poignant" exchange.
I almost cried too, but for entirely different reasons. "Life or
Something Like It" is artless, graceless and utterly without any
redeeming qualities. And, if the preview audience is any indicator, it
may actually become a hit.
Oh, my aching head
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott