Part of my job as a film critic is to help people understand just what kind of film they might potentially see. The job is often easy, as most pictures aren't thematically complicated enough to warrant deeper investigation. But then along comes "Life or Something Like It" (IMDb listing). This film is marketed as a light, romantic comedy, but once inside the theater, the picture is really a melodramatic exploration of what's important in life. That's right, it's serious. While this little switcheroo by the releasing studio 20th Century Fox wouldn't normally be such a problem, with "Life," it ends up being a pretty big one.
Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie) is a news reporter working her way up the ranks in Seattle. She has the perfect life: a baseball player for a boyfriend, a perfect body, and an opportunity coming her way for a shot at a network position. One day, out with her loathed cameraman, the affable but cantankerous Pete (Edward Burns), Lanie comes across a homeless man who can see the future. His prediction? The Mariners will win, it will hail the next day, and in a week's time Lanie will die. While initially wary of this prophesy, Lanie soon learns of the prophet's validity, and begins to question the choices she has made with her life.
The trailer for "Life or Something Like It" is filled with images of the weight-obsessed Lanie eating a stack of pancakes, having a playful argument with her boyfriend or even indulging in a little sexual banter with Pete. You know, typical light and fluffy material for the date night crowd. But "Life" is hardly a sweet-tempered diversion. It's a tonally ambitious film, directed by Stephan Herek and written by John Scott Shepard and Dana Stevens, but it's far from challenging. It weaves some serious self-examination and dramatics along with moments where a moronic sports star refers to the homeless man's powers as "ESPN." You need a golden script or director to maintain that diverse a tone for any picture, and "Life" just isn't up to par. Chalk it up to Herek's lack of talent (save for the recent "Rock Star"), or just simply a film lost while making its way through development, but the end result is a picture that doesn't work as a drama or a comedy. It feels desperate, as the lone one or two outright "schticky" moments of the film are bailing out the lack of confidence the filmmakers have in the drama, and vice versa.
I can respect a film that has more on its mind than another run through the romantic comedy sprinkler, I just wish "Life or Something Like It" came prepared to play with its loopy concept. The Lanie character seems far too young to be questioning her life choices, so the filmmakers are forced to go way back to her preteen years to harvest the angst that would build up over time. So to see her trying to change her ways seems a little shallow, as she hasn't had much time to develop many bad habits. The Pete character also suffers from maybe too many cuts in the rewriting or editing process. Set up as a constant foil, yet potential boyfriend to Lanie, Pete disappears for long periods of time during the film, only showing up when his part is needed to fulfill the hackneyed romantic moments the picture doesn't actually need. It's tough to buy these two as a couple when they spend so much of the movie apart.
Or maybe it's just the people playing these parts. In her first major comedic role (unless you count "Tomb Raider"), Angelina Jolie embarrasses herself immensely in a part that should've gone to someone else. Jolie is a skilled navigator of gritty dramatics, and a tried and true talent, but her playing light is like staring into the sun. I don't buy a minute of her screen time, and I hardly believe that even Jolie is enjoying herself. It's not that the role is beneath her, but simply that some actresses have the gift for comedy, and some don't. Jolie does not, and I hope she learns from this blunder.
And could somebody please hire Edward Burns in a role that isn't Irish/New Yorker based? While Burns as an actor is always affable enough, it's getting harder and harder to stomach his low key charms. All "Life" asks of Burns is to grow a little stubble and wait for his cue to stroll in and break hearts. Not particularly challenging stuff, and you can read the boredom easily on his face. Burns needs some career Viagra soon, because I don't think he can withstand the blast of another bomb like this.
"Life or Something Like It" is harmless entertainment, but it won't change your life. The only pondering you'll do sitting in the theater will be over where all the funny parts you've seen in the trailers or TV spots went to.
Filmfodder Grade: D+