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Stephen Herek's Life or Something Like It is a picture that grows off you. It's never essential, but it's not unpleasant while you're in the theater. The plot moves along; you smile a little. But the more you think about this film, the less you like it. Not that it remotely deserves your thinking about it a single moment after you've licked the popcorn salt off your fingers and slurped the last swallow of your soft drink.

Written by John Scott Shepherd and Dana Stevens, Life or Something Like It is an old-fashioned romantic comedy with old-fashioned and slightly objectionable values. Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie in a platinum bouffant last seen adorning the noggin of Miss Texas, 1959) is a Seattle television reporter determined to see her name up in lights. Already, Lanie would seem to have life by the tail. She's got a great job, a great income and a swank apartment she shares with handsome Seattle Mariner slugger Cal Cooper (Christian Kane). Nonetheless, she's widely regarded as the most nakedly ambitious news personality in the Pacific Northwest. What's remarkable is that nobody seems to hate her guts. In fact, her boss (Gregory Itzin) seems to like her so much he's nominated her for a forthcoming vacancy on the network morning show called A.M. U.S.A.

The script provides us with some back story to account for Lanie's drive. She had to wear glasses when she was in junior high school, and all the boys made their passes at her older sister Gwen (Lisa Thornhill). With that kind of unprecedented tragedy in her background, it's no wonder she's so determined to be a star. Today, Lanie and Gwen compete for the affections of their widowed father (James Gammon). Gwen's strategy is to be thoughtful and attentive. Lanie's approach is to be famous. Guess who's winning?

With those wrenching details established, the movie speeds forward to its competing concerns. Will Lanie get that job in New York? And meanwhile, will she and her laid-back camera man Pete Scanlon (Edward Burns) stop sniping at each other and admit that their names are written side by side in the book of love? This latter aspect of the movie follows the standard, "I hate you; I hate you; I love you" formula employed by movies as appealing as Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) and as tired as Ivan Reitman's Six Days and Seven Nights (1998).

As if cramming candles too large and numerous into a birthday cake too small and tasteless, the filmmakers try to jazz up this fundamentally inert material with a plot turn as preposterous as it is clumsily executed. At Pete's suggestion, Lanie goes out to do a "man on the street" interview with Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), a bearded and homeless street performer who sells people the predictions he elicits from his own private hotline to God. Like so many soothsayers, Prophet Jack eschews asking the Almighty about the cure for cancer and a workable plan for peace in the Middle East to concentrate on such pressing matters as the final score of next Sunday's Seattle Seahawks game. "Take the points," he urges this particular week.

The interview is fine and dandy, with Lanie exhibiting an unsuspected ability to banter and recover gracefully when thrown off balance. But then Prophet Jack allows as how Lanie should probably get her affairs in order because she's on the Grim Reaper's hit list for the middle of next week. Talk about a come down. Here Lanie's getting all excited about landing that network job and being as important as Deborah Connors (Stockard Channing doing a wicked skewering of Barbara Walters without resorting to lisp number one) and now she isn't even going to live to watch Deborah Connors. I mean, this is actually worse than having to wear glasses in junior high school.

Now don't ask why Lanie would believe Prophet Jack. And don't ask why the screenplay first makes fun of a con man and then asks us to take him seriously. Don't ask why all but one of Prophet Jack's increasingly unbelievable predictions actually come true or why the one that doesn't, doesn't. Don't ask what Pete conceivably sees in Lanie. And for heaven's sake don't ask about the logic of a sequence where Lanie goes a little nuts, gets a lot drunk, shows up late for work, behaves in a way for which the only reasonable result is an instantaneous sacking, and nonetheless succeeds in making her wildest professional dreams come true. And most important, absolutely most important, don't ask how anybody with Lanie's hairdo could land a television job at the smallest station in the most distant backwater on the American broadcast map. The coif Lanie defiantly defends as her "trademark" would keep her from working in radio.

Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) may have it all -- including TV news' most improbable hairdo -- but something's missing in Life or Something Like It.
  • Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) may have it all -- including TV news' most improbable hairdo -- but something's missing in Life or Something Like It.

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