Life or Something Like It Movie Review

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Like a gift-wrapped tennis racquet, director Stephen Herek's Life or Something Like It reveals most of its secrets with the packaging. The contrived tagline of "Destiny Is What You Make Of It" screams "Feel Good Movie," and sure enough a brief tour of Herek's resume uncovers dreamers (Mr. Holland's Opus), overachievers (Rock Star) and time-traveling prophets bearing the benevolent message, "Be excellent to each other" (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure).

But I like Herek - a sort of populist Cameron Crowe - because he specializes in dreams and dreamers, yet still understands enough about pacing and characterization to prevent his films from drifting off into the stratosphere before they reach their natural conclusion. He may be light, fluffy and conventional, but his films contain an unforeseen element of stability and (as a result) respectability.

Life seems that much better with a particularly radiant Angelina Jolie in the lead role of Lanie Kerrigan, a Seattle newscaster who's being considered for a position on a Today-style national morning show in New York City. On a whim, Lanie asks a popular street urchin, Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), if she'll get the job, and he informs her that she won't ... not because she lacks talent, but because she's destined to die in a week.

What follows is a well-traveled path of personal analysis and change, life alterations and monumental decisions made by a girl who believes she's in the home stretch. Since the opening scene shows Lanie on the surgeon's table, we're already aware of the outcome to a certain extent. But as the film progresses, it becomes less and less about Jack's prediction, and more about Lanie's effort to prevent its fulfillment. If she happens to find love along the way with the handsome cameraman she once shunned (Edward Burns), so be it.

Life may be pre-packaged goodness, but it's served warm by a director comfortably basking in the glow of his preferred genre. As in his previous films, Herek coaxes fine performances from his entire cast. Burns may be a one-trick pony, but his trick serves this story well. Shalhoub is even permitted one scene to convince us Jack is eccentric, but not irrational. It's a welcome attempt to sidestep what could have been a generic portrayal.

And then there's Jolie, who's dazzling and effervescent in her most carefree, comedic role to date. How beautiful she can be when she loosens up, lets down that unnaturally bleached-blonde hair and behaves like a (gasp!) 25-year-old. Without the baggage of being "Angelina," the star finally glows brightly. In her hands, Herek's latest dream quest becomes a celebration of life... or something like it.

The DVD includes a commentary track from Herek (and that's it!).

A party... or something like it.

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Life or Something Like It Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2002

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