Hollywood seems to be fascinated with films that feature "second chance at life" plots and/or themes. While that could be based on the fact that filmmakers and stars often experience such feelings and self-realizations more than others due to their presumably wilder and/or more extravagant lifestyles, it probably also stems from personal redemption and re-discovery being a near universal experience.
Whatever the case, such themes have driven films for decades from the recent "American Beauty" back through pictures such as "Fearless" and "The Big Chill" to the granddaddy of them all, "A Christmas Carol" that went on to inspire Frank Capra's beloved "It's A Wonderful Life."
In real life and in those movies and others, such individual moments often stem from some sort of catalytic event (a near death experience or suddenly losing a friend or family member), while others slowly build until the revelation oozes forth like an uncontrollable force. For Lanie Kerrigan, a glossy and career-minded TV reporter, however, it's neither of those that has her reexamining her fast-track life.
Instead, it's the gloom and doom prediction of a street prophet who says he's had a vision of her demise. When she discovers that he's rather accurate in the prediction department, she realizes she has less than a week to re-prioritize her life and mindset.
That's the moderately intriguing setup and premise of "Life or Something Like It," yet another film that goes down the "I've got to make my life better" route. Feeling quite a bit like the far superior "American Beauty" the film starts off in the present day with the protagonist near death (as compared to Lester Burnham already being dead in "AB") and then has some voice over narration deliver some briefly profound dialogue about the matter as we then back up to the beginning of the story to witness what leads up to that point.
Beyond lacking the depth or brilliance of that Oscar winning picture, this one strives to exist in a different sort of genre, although it never really stands on its feet that well in any of them. Writers John Scott Shepherd ("Joe Somebody") and Dana Stevens ("For Love of the Game," "City of Angels") and director Stephen Herek ("Rock Star," "Holy Man") apparently are attempting to do something along the lines of an old-fashioned romantic comedy.
One's enjoyment of the film and its characters is supposed to stem from the barbed, but also sexually/romantically charged dialogue shot back and forth between the two main characters. The problem is that while such banter is present, it isn't overly entertaining and certainly doesn't match the efforts found in similar films from yesteryear.
Part of that's obviously due to the mediocre dialogue, but a great deal also stems from the low level chemistry between the characters played by Angelina Jolie ("Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Original Sin") and Edward Burns ("Sidewalks of New York," "15 Minutes"). While she has some fun moments with the character and gets the ambitious reporter bit down pat (even if treading through stereotypes), we really don't care for the two as individuals, let alone root for them to be a couple. As a result, and when coupled with the fact that the characterizations and material with which the performers have been given to work aren't particularly novel, the film comes off as a rather flat misfire.
The intriguing part of the film isn't Jolie's character realizing her life is a sham - since we see that coming and have witnessed it countless times before - but rather the subplot material dealing with the uncannily accurate street prophet played by Tony Shalhoub ("Impostor," "Spy Kids").
Some of those moments have a slightly creepy, Twilight Zone type feel to them, and clearly make at least the parts of the film dealing with them interesting. Unfortunately, the filmmakers use that mainly as a catalytic element rather than exploring it more in full, thus resulting in yet another disappointing aspect of the film.
That also holds true regarding the protagonist's reaction to learning that she only has a week to live. Most everyone has thought about facing such a dilemma at some point in their lives, but the filmmakers here aren't overly imaginative or clever in fashioning her responsive behavior.
While she does go back to test the prophet once more for accuracy after the initial announcement, she never asks him about the exact "hows," "whens," "whys" and "wheres" related to her predicted demise, despite learning that he's rather accurate in such matters. Instead, they have her character forgo hygiene and health and sing an impromptu rendition of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" while reporting on a workers' strike.
The moment not only fails to match the song's use in "Apocalypse Now," but it also feels too forced and stupid for even what the film had been offering up to that point. After that contrived "audience pleasing" moment - with the riot police even tapping their toes - it's all downhill from there, as more contrivances and predictable material follows.
Beyond Jolie being relatively easy to watch in her role, Burns delivers yet another sarcastic, self-deprecating and gravely-voiced character that's pretty much like most he's been recycling for some time now. Shalhoub can't do much with his character due to lack of necessary screen time, while the likes of Christian Kane ("Summer Catch," "The Broken Hearts Club"), Lisa Thornhill ("The Family Man," "Meet Wally Sparks"), Max Baker ("The Time Machine") and Stockard Channing ("Where the Heart Is," TV's "The West Wing") in a cameo role all falling into the same boat.
If you've never seen such a "second chance at life" film, this one may work for you to some degree, especially if you're a connoisseur of/sucker for forced, contrived and predictable material and moments posing as heartfelt and moving ones. On the other hand, if you've seen the likes of "It's A Wonderful Life" and "American Beauty," you'll identify all of the film's faults far faster and will realize that that the second half of its title also defines its attempts at being a thought-provoking, well-made movie.
Beyond a line near the end of the film stating that one should live life like every day is the last since one day it will be, the picture never hits its stride at whatever it's trying to be. Accordingly, "Life or Something Like It" rates as just a 4 out of 10.