Life or Something Like It can't survive its own insincerity.

Terminally Ill 

Life or Something Like It can't survive its own insincerity.

The thoroughly unlikable heroine of Life or Something Like It is a vain, actressy bleached blonde TV personality. To call her a "reporter" is to defame journalists. She's a ruthless social climber who means to move up from Seattle's inane morning news-and-talk show to a major network's inane morning news-and-talk show.

But before Lanie Kerrigan can become a national celebrity, the makers of this hit-and-miss comedy about striving and satisfaction throw her a typical Hollywood curveball: Between powdering her nose and tracking down a crucial holiday story on pumpkins that look like famous people, Lanie runs into a ragged street-corner prophet (Tony Shalhoub) who tells her she's going to die. On Thursday.

After confirming the accuracy of the crazy shouter's other predictions (sure enough: Seahawks 19, Broncos 13; and, oh yeah, come morning, it hails), Lanie decides to examine her life and reassess her values. We can hardly wait for the re-emergence of the real Lanie Kerrigan -- the one who loves her family more than her job, who can fall for a real guy instead of an image-enhancer, who rediscovers her heart.

Unfortunately, Lanie's conversion scene is a phony piece of dreck: After the doomed heroine stays up all night drinking vodka (because nothing matters anymore), she stumbles off to an assignment and leads a group of striking transit workers in an on-camera version of "Satisfaction." Of course, her cheap theatricality not only captivates her bosses at the station (who immediately ship her off to the network in New York on the day she's supposed to die) but also inexplicably snows no-nonsense Pete (Edward Burns), the wisecracking cameraman Lanie will eventually fall in love with.

The best thing about Life is its dead-on satire of TV's obsession with appearances and equipment. Screenwriter (and Kansas City native) John Scott Shepherd is a reformed copywriter who used to pen TV spots for hamburger chains and airlines, and that evidently sharpened his aim.

But Shepherd, co-writer Dana Stevens and director Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland's Opus, Rock Star) here give us a cautionary tale about the folly of superficiality that is itself endlessly superficial, proving that those people who keep telling us that irony is dead are dead wrong. Life comes with two giant scoops of the stuff, the second being that its leading lady is Angelina Jolie, the lippy one last seen in the execrable Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. As an actress, she's three times more vain and actressy than Lanie Kerrigan could ever dream of being and, therefore, a most unlikely candidate for redemption. Say what you want about Hollywood losing its way in recent years, but there's something beautiful about moviemakers who paint themselves into corners this tight.

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