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Life Or Something Like It

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2002, 20th Century Fox
Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Tony Shalhoub
Stephen Herek
MPAA Rating:
[PG-13] sexual content, brief violence, language
103 minutes

A shallow, career-oriented newscaster (Jolie) must re-examine her life when she is told that she will die in one week.

What's Good
Angelina Jolie is hot as a blonde and decent at comedy
Tony Shalhoub is good as a grungy psychic
feel good, life-affirming message

What's Bad
everything is too black and white, too simple
an overly optimistic ending that exploits a loophole in the story
unnecessarily distracting editing

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (December 2002)

In Life Or Something Like It, Angelina Jolie is Lanie Kerrigan, a local Seattle reporter who is poised for stardom on national television. On top of the world and engaged to a star baseball player, everything seems to be right on track for this glamorous young woman until a street performer claiming to be psychic (underappreciated actor Tony Shalhoub) predicts that she will die in one week. Lanie doesn't take the unsettling premonition seriously at first, but when the man's other prophecies come true with uncanny precision, she begins to believe that her demise is indeed fast approaching. Faced with less than seven days left, the once shallow newscaster begins to re-examine her life and re-think her priorities.

The message at the heart of this movie is simple: live every day as if it were your last and focus on what's important, because life is just too damned short. It's a positive message so obvious that most of us forget it in our daily lives, and it's presented in a manner that is more lighthearted than the material would suggest. But it's also an age-old message that is hardly new. In fact, the biggest revelation in Life Or Something Like It isn't this life-affirming sentiment, but rather that actress Angelina Jolie looks pretty hot when she's dolled up with big blonde hair and sharp threads.

But the moral of the story, trite as it may be, isn't the problem here. After all, the occasional dose of sappiness in the spirit of It's A Wonderful Life can be good theatrical escapism. The problem is that virtually every character is an extreme archetype: either so ideally perfect or so unbelievably shallow that they hardly seem real. Lanie herself jumps from one end of the spectrum to the other, at first being the most superficial, career-oriented glamour queen on earth, then suddenly becoming a grungy, tree-hugging hippie who's all about the love. Everything is too black and white. There's no room for any middle ground that would make her a more well rounded individual, no room for the possibility that personal happiness and career achievements aren't mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, the other main characters are all equally drastic. Lanie's nice guy cameraman Pete (Edward Burns), is too idealized with his carefree, responsible single dad, "I got all my sh** together and I'm so happy with myself" attitude. The other side of the coin is Lanie's ball playing boyfriend Cal (Christian Kane), who is just way too much jackass to swallow (is anyone really going to chide Angelina Jolie for going Lisa Loeb style with her eyewear?). It's not until the very end of the movie that he shows the slightest bit of humanity, by which time it does little good. Hey, the closing credits are coming up in a minute--isn't it a little late for character development?

Lanie's estranged sister is also clearly on the side of "not good" as a wholly unsympathetic, jealous soccer mom. Had she, Pete, or Cal been presented as normal people with both positive and negative traits, then Laine's journey of self-discovery would have involved far more soul searching and difficult choices. But everything is painfully clear cut, and what she must ultimately do seems both easy and obvious.

The closing act exploits a loophole of sorts in order to come up with a decidedly optimistic ending. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that this story probably would have been better served with a more bittersweet conclusion.

On a technical note, the editing is distractingly bad when it tries to get edgy: stop-motion photography, extreme zooms, jerky fast forwarding, and slews of images thrown together in mere seconds are some of the overused techniques that unnecessarily emphasize the passage of time and Lanie's fast paced lifestyle. Something more subtle, like a caption displaying the day of the week (as in The Ring), would have been adequate. It also could have added a level of tension that seems to be missing in this countdown to the great beyond.

Life Or Something Like It doesn't particularly resonate much once it's over, but it might give you a little something to think about while it's playing. It also showcases Angelina Jolie's ability to do comedy, and offers a positive, feel good message. (And of course, seeing Jolie as a buxom blonde who frequently hits the gym ain't bad either.)

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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