Some bad movies make you angry; others just make you sad. And bad movies just don’t come any sadder than Life or Something Like It, a shapeless, miserable mess directed by Stephen Herek and written by John Scott Shepherd and Dana Stevens, from Shepherd’s story. Shepherd’s only other credit is Joe Somebody, last year’s equally shapeless, equally miserable Tim Allen vehicle.
It’s hard to know where to start explaining what’s wrong with Life or Something Like It, and it’s no pleasure trying; talking about it is like beating up on a coma victim. The movie’s preview trailer sets up the premise: Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) is a Seattle TV news reporter—blonde, beautiful, telegenic—who seems to be headed for big things. But when she does a human-interest piece on a homeless man named Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), she gets some unsettling news: tonight the Seahawks will win 19-13, tomorrow morning it will hail, and next Thursday Lanie will die. When the football victory, then the hailstorm comes to pass, Lanie begins to worry.
The concept makes a good trailer, but Shepherd and Stevens neglected to develop the idea into a story. This seems to be one of those movies (like the fictitious production in the kiddie comedy Big Fat Liar) where the trailer was made first, then expanded into feature length—A Movie or Something Like It. I suspect this happens more often than Hollywood lets on; if nothing else, it explains all those times when the trailer has scenes that don’t appear in the film. Not surprisingly, that’s the case with the previews for this movie.
What makes the trailer so tantalizing is that it seems to set up an insoluble problem (either Prophet Jack is full of hot air or Lanie is going to die), and audiences want to see how the movie works it out. Alas, the problem remains insoluble; without giving anything away, I can say that the ending—delivered in the form of a voice-over narration that sounds like it was added after the fact—is a complete cop-out, as bad as (though different from) the old it-was-all-just-a-horrible-dream wheeze.
Besides the ending, the script is a junkyard of recycled remnants from romantic comedies, sibling-rivalry soap operas, and meaning-of-life dramas. There’s a bickering Beatrice-and-Benedick romance between Lanie and her cameraman (Edward Burns) and a half-baked clash between Lanie and her sister (Melissa Errico) for the affection of their doddering old father (James Gammon). None of this ever comes to anything because it’s all knee-jerk stuff; there’s no substance to the roles for the actors or the director (Stephen Herek is a genial hack who is always at the mercy of his scripts) to sink their teeth into.
The scene that shows the creative bankruptcy of Life or Something Like It is that obligatory time-killer of bad movies, the vintage rock song on the soundtrack with the characters either lip-synching or singing along. Lanie, rattled by Prophet Jack, shows up drunk and disheveled to cover a transit strike. Slurring and stumbling, she starts singing the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction;” before long the famous guitar riff chimes in and all the striking workers begin singing along, hefting Lanie on their shoulders.
Set aside for now the question of whether it’s possible to find 100 people in one place, all of whom know the words to “Satisfaction.” This live broadcast is supposedly the news piece that clinches the major network job Lanie’s been hoping for. Oh, please. That’s the kind of movie this is: a reporter shows up drunk, looking like something the cat dragged in, and starts an impromptu sing-along, and suddenly the network boys want her back in New York—the very next day? The generic, meaningless title notwithstanding, this isn’t Life or Anything Like It. Besides, the movie makes the mistake of repeating the scene (on videotape) without the Stones’ accompaniment. And you know what? If anyone ever makes that magic movie that brings back the Hollywood musical, it’s a safe bet that Angelina Jolie won’t be in it.