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Picks and Pans Main: Screen

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Life or Something Like It

Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Tony Shalhoub, Melissa Errico

Angelina Jolie may be Jon Voight’s daughter, but she has Mick Jagger’s lips. Framing her wide mouth like two plump bratwursts, they give a performance all their own in this piddling romantic comedy about an ambitious television reporter who reevaluates her life. In repose, the lips loom large. If Jolie’s journalist is angry, they scrunch up when she yells. And when her news gal makes like Jagger—drunkenly warbling “Satisfaction” on live TV in the movie’s most overwrought scene—they pucker to the beat.

If one is paying this close attention to Jolie’s kisser, obviously not all that much else is happening onscreen. Neither the characters nor the story in Life or Something Like It, directed by Stephen Herek (Rock Star), is remotely connected to reality. Instead they seem to exist in a hermetic cinematic world of cute and cuter. Jolie is Lanie, a preening platinum blonde who reports (ineptly, from what we see of her in action) for a Seattle station, but she hungers to go network. Although engaged to a Mariners star slugger (Christian Kane), her constant verbal spatting with Pete (Burns), her cute cameraman, hints that her heart lies elsewhere. When a prognosticating homeless man (Shalhoub) informs Lanie that she will die in a week, she starts some serious soul-searching. “My life that seemed so perfect,” she decides, “now seems like some big greasy doughnut.” Gag me with a Krispy Kreme.

Jolie, who dazzled when portraying deeply troubled women in Gia and in Girl, Interrupted, seems almost contemptuous of Lanie, as if the character was too flighty for her to bother burrowing into. The scratchy-voiced, easygoing Burns, probably better suited to best-buddy roles than leading man, cruises through in neutral. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Lifeless

The Salton Sea
Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Kara Unger

To borrow from Mark Twain, who said as much about the weather in New England: If you don’t like the plot of The Salton Sea, just wait a few minutes and it will change. Which isn’t to complain; this dark revenge thriller is so jam-packed with twists and turns, the ride itself is a kick even if the final destination proves a minor disappointment.

Kilmer plays Danny Parker, a jazz trumpeter in L.A. who appears to have become a down-and-out methedrine addict following the death of his wife (Chandra West). Soon he is involved with a sadistic drug dealer (D’Onofrio, in a robust turn), manipulative narcotics cops (Anthony LaPaglia and Doug Hutchinson), a mysterious neighbor (Unger) and gunfire.

Director D.J. Caruso, in a promising debut, is better on style than substance. He seems willing to try anything to keep Sea’s improbable story flowing and the viewer off balance. Kilmer is impressive, by turns moody, somber or apprehensive, and always looking as if he knows a big secret which, indeed, his character does. (R)

Bottom Line: Consider taking the plunge

Sarah Peirse, Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki

Featured attraction

Adolescents can sense when something’s wrong, far more than parents give them credit for. So it is with Janey (Fulford-Wierzbicki), 13, in this subtly powerful coming-of-age story from New Zealand. During a fateful summer spent at the beach in 1972, Janey and her younger brother are left on their own as the adults drink too much at night and doze away days. Meanwhile their melancholy mom (Peirse, in a fabulously fierce performance that brings to mind fellow Antipodean Judy Davis) won’t stop making doe eyes at a brawny drifter. The first film by Christine Jeffs, Rain offers an evocative, almost poetic look at a lazy, hazy summer that gets emotionally overheated. (Not rated)

Bottom Line: A thunderous debut