Way too much Jolie

Movie Review

April 26, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC


* (one star)

To appreciate the silliness of Life or Something Like It, you have to imagine out-there Angelina Jolie portraying a Seattle news gal who is as nakedly careerist as Nicole Kidman's small-town weather gal in To Die For, and Stockard Channing reduced to playing a network personality who's half Barbara Walters, half Mike Wallace.

When Jolie wins her big break and interviews Channing on national TV, Channing lays down ground rules. But Jolie ignores them and gets Channing to expose her innermost feelings. How does she do this? By coming on as fluttery and disconnected as Marilyn Monroe and finally softly asking her whether she has any regrets. Instead of walking off the set, Channing crumples.

This movie falls apart well before that. Like Groundhog Day but without an ounce of its charming gimmickry and humor, Life or Something Like It tells how Jolie, a hot Seattle media personality who yearns to make it in Manhattan, discovers that careerism isn't everything - make that anything.

An unusually reliable street prophet (Tony Shalhoub) declares that she'll be dead within a week, right when she's supposed to land a coveted network job. Before long, she's battling with her Seattle Mariners slugger boyfriend (Christian Kane) and rediscovering the charms of her antagonistic cameraman (Edward Burns), a network veteran who forsook the New York thing to be close to his young son. Yes, in this Hollywood call for a simpler and more meaningful life, the heroine's guide to the road-less-traveled is a tousle-haired, plaid-shirted hunk: a stationary version of the drifting photographer in The Bridges of Madison County.

How do I loathe this? Let me count the ways. It satirizes Jolie's appearance-consciousness realistically, then hinges the action on her ability to lead striking transit workers in a supposedly rousing rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." It wastes a handful of able performers, including Channing, Shalhoub and James Gammon as Jolie's father. And it plays the game of bending all the other characters to the needs of the heroine, except the unassailably lovable and virtuous Burns.

The supporting characters first have to act ugly in order to clear Jolie's path toward self-definition, and then act nice under her influence. For example, the older sister, when she was a high school cheerleader, never realized that Jolie, then a bespectacled kid, only wanted to be as beautiful as her. (All at once: Awwwwww.) Played by Lisa Thornhill as an adult, she spurns emotional contact even when Jolie wants to connect with her. But the filmmakers want to show how Jolie's on-camera frankness pierces Channing's barricades and those of her viewers, too. So as Jolie grills Channing, the sister is watching with her family (including father Gammon) and clasping her alcoholic, sex-addicted husband's hand.

As Steve Allen used to say, I kid you not.

And don't get me started on the ballplayer. He's parodied as a body-conscious moron with a taste for bad puns, but when he suggests Jolie might feel better if she belted a few balls into the outfield, it seems as sensible as anything Burns has to offer. (Don't worry: in the end the slugger turns out to be a good guy, too.)

To top it off, the ending is a clumsy cheat. Of course, I was rooting for the news gal to expire and the film to die a quick death.

Life or Something Like It

Starring Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns and Tony Shalhoub

Directed by Stephen Herek

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13

Running time 115 minutes

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