April 24, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
By Cheryl Eddy
AROUND THIS TIME last year, Angelina Jolie was in Tomb Raider mode, blasting bad guys, scaling rock walls, and unleashing a line of Jolie-ized Lara Croft action figures clad in "combat training" and "Siberia" gear. Lately, though, the famously uninhibited Jolie next to her husband, Billy Bob Thornton, she's probably the most tattooed Oscar winner on record seems to be settling down. While she spent much of her pre-Tomb Raider career creating a persona based largely on her affinity for sex and knives, and selecting roles that reinforced this wild-child image, Jolie devoted a good part of 2001 to meeting with impoverished people in countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, fulfilling her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations' High Committee on Refugees. In addition, Jolie and Thornton recently adopted a baby from Cambodia, adding a third child to a brood that includes Thornton's young sons from a previous marriage. This is all happy news, of course but will all this, well, respectable behavior dull Jolie's serrated screen presence?
Don't let the big blond wig scare you. Jolie's latest, Life or Something Like It, may give off romantic comedy vibrations but casting Jolie in a role that seems custom-made for Renée Zellweger adds a certain amount of excitement to what is otherwise yet another picture extolling the virtues of love, sweet love. With Marilyn hair, Barbra nails, and Lara Croft's body, Seattle television personality Lanie Kerrigan (Jolie) could give a rat's ass about anything in her life besides her career. Except maybe her daily workouts. And, oh yeah, the photogenic Mariner, Cal (Christian Kane), she's engaged to marry. Last on her list is greasy Pete (Edward Burns, much less annoying when he's not directing himself), the cameraperson assigned to make her look good when she's up for a job in New York on a Today-ish morning show.
Lanie and Pete argue constantly he observes, not incorrectly, that her life is "a meaningless quest for the approval of others"; predictably, their fighting words mask an attraction that takes an hour or so to emerge. In the meantime, the station sends Lanie to interview "Prophet Jack" (Tony Shalhoub), a homeless fortune-teller given to predicting traffic jams and sports scores. Only on this day, he looks a Dolce and Gabbana'd Lanie in the eye and tells her she'll die in a week.
At first she doesn't believe him, but as Jack's various other forecasts come true, the weight of existential crisis settles on her perfectly toned shoulders. Her emotionally detached family mom's dead, dad's introverted, well-married rich sister still calls former fat kid Lanie "pudge" offers no comfort, nor does Cal (when she asks him why he's with her, his first response is her "great ass"). Coping comes in the forms of Social Distortion, Oreos, and a drinking bender that ends with an uncharacteristically screechy Lanie covering a transit workers strike on live television. Of course, it's in these scenes that the Jolie we know and love emerges instead of Lanie's phony, poufy coif and death-ray smile, we get flat, crazy hair and an unglued snarl.
Kooky breakdown notwithstanding, the mostly gentle Life represents a definite departure for Jolie. Unwaveringly MOR director Stephen Herek (Rock Star, 101 Dalmations, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) is not one to shy away from a romantic scene set to Jewel, or an extended relationship metaphor involving Altoids. The movie also tries to make the point that it's more important to follow your heart than your ambitions, and maybe on your days off you can wear an old T-shirt and act rowdy at baseball games if you want to.
But the pieces don't fit together as neatly as Life would like. For one thing, we don't really get the feeling that Lanie is all that unhappy with her life, meaningless though it is, pre-doomsday sentence. And even after her transformation, when she's discussing her opportunity in New York with Pete, she says, "It's everything I ever dreamed of!," and we still believe her. Life rests heavily on the conceit that the possibility of a romantic relationship especially one that's just a few days old, with someone you detested days before requires scaling back lifelong career aspirations.
Still, Jolie is captivating enough to give the old-fashioned Life a little spring in its step. It wouldn't be a romantic comedy without a happy ending, after all and chances are, the versatile Jolie won't make a habit of applying her talents to so-so films that rely a little too much on her ability to look foxy in a skirt and heels. 'Life or Something Like It' opens Fri/26 at Bay Area theaters. See Movie clock, in Film listings, for show times.