Review: Jolie shines in up-and-down 'Life'
Formulaic comedy boosted by performances
(CNN) -- "Life or Something Like It" comes roaring out of the gate as a smart and sassy throwback to those wonderful 1930s and '40s Preston Sturges-type screwball comedies -- only to sputter a bit in the middle. But a strong ending, along with a fine performance by Angelina Jolie, help the movie work.
Jolie goes platinum blonde in this, her first comedic turn. Marilyn Monroe may be dead and gone for lo these many years, but her hair is alive and well and sitting on Jolie's head.
The actress plays Lanie Kerrigan, a feature reporter for a Seattle television station. She's poised for success and climbing the ladder with her exquisitely manicured nails. She has the perfect job, the perfect apartment, the perfect boyfriend and of course the perfect wardrobe. She's on the fast track to the fast track and nothing better get in her way.
Well, there is one fly in her ointment. Her cameraman Pete, played by Edward Burns, has been there and back. He's tasted the big time in New York City and gave it all up to be near his son, who came to the Northwest with his ex-wife. His values are the exact opposite of Kerrigan's: family, roots, commitment and stability. She finds happiness in the trivial and the superficial. They fight like cats and dogs.
Of course, they fall in love. If that spoils the film for you, you don't get out enough.
One day while on general assignment Kerrigan and Pete come across a homeless man, a self-proclaimed a prophet named Jack (Tony Shalhoub). Jack predicts Kerrigan will not get the promotion she is seeking, the Seattle Seahawks are going to win that night, the city will experience an unseasonable hailstorm the next morning -- and, oh yeah, Kerrigan is going to die in one week.
When Jack's predictions start to come true, Kerrigan is thrown into a first-class panic attack and re-evaluates her entire existence.
This is where the very strong first act ends, and the extremely weak second act starts. Kerrigan turns to Pete for guidance, dumps her handsome, but superficial, ballplayer boyfriend (Christian Kane), and begins to get in touch with the important things in life -- including falling in love with Pete. She then shows up live on air while inebriated, takes sides in a story about a transit bus strike, leads the crowd in a drunken rendition of the Rolling Stones song "Satisfaction," and says the f-word on TV.
In reality, this behavior would get anyone in broadcasting thrown out on their rear. But Kerrigan finds herself promoted to the network and relocated to New York City and the big time. Her previous superficial dreams have now suddenly come true, and since she got the job that Jack said she wouldn't get, Kerrigan figures his prediction about her death is also wrong.
Now we stumble into the final act, where things start to get a little better and the plot begins to wrap up. The film finally becomes a cautionary tale about the American Dream and being careful about what you wish for -- since, as the old saying goes, you just might get it.
Jolie is excellent in her role, which would have been played by Jean Arthur or Carole Lombard in another era. Despite some of the ludicrous plot points in the middle of the film, this Academy Award-winning actress is exceedingly believable in her journey towards self-discovery and the true meaning of fulfilling life. Yep, just like Dorothy, happiness is in her own backyard.
Burns, whose limited cynical persona doesn't always fit his characters, is quite good in the role of Pete. The actor, who began his professional life as a production assistant for "Entertainment Tonight's" New York bureau, knows his way around local news and a TV camera. His trademark scruffy looks and loose style fits the role to a T.
Director Stephen Herek (1995's "Mr. Holland's Opus" and 1996's "101 Dalmatians"), has a good eye and ear for comedy, but unfortunately gives Jolie just enough rope to hang herself in the muddled middle of the film.
The script by John Scott Shepherd and Dana Stevens betrays its own reality at times and takes the viewer out of the realm of what could or could not happen -- within that established reality. So the story stumbles here and there.
But in general, "Life or Something Like It" is a pleasant piece of escapist entertainment. Just keep your expectations in neutral and enjoy Jolie's luscious presence, cotton-candy hair and the obvious fun she had in portraying this superficial Barbie Doll who finally finds her inner self.
"Life Or Something Like It" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13.
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