Mutant Strains


A doggedly uninvolving slice of “stop and smell the roses” baloney that would do scare-mongering mommy warrior Sylvia Ann Hewlett proud, Stephen Herek’s Life or Something Like It cloaks a familiar anti-feminist equation (career – kids = misery) in tiresome romantic-comedy duds. Angelina “Am I a Diva Yet?” Jolie plays Lanie, an ambitious Seattle TV personality whose emotions are in a headlock until a street prophet (Tony Shalhoub) predicts her imminent demise. She re-establishes contact with her estranged family, dumps her dunderheaded fiancé, and hooks up with an earthy cameraman named Pete (Edward Burns). Against an impressive backdrop of product placement—including a pivotal appearance by an Altoids tin—Lanie’s moment of reckoning more or less arrives. Beyond the curious miscasting of Jolie, who can’t quite turn lazy flirtatiousness into existential longing, Life or Something Like It offers few diversions. The calculated superficiality of Lanie’s goals and a cameo by Stockard Channing as a career-ravaged victim of terminal childlessness are too listless to be offensive, and the banal happy ending is easier to see coming than Jolie’s big blond coiffure.

Sure to appear in everyone’s worst-of lists at year’s end, to say nothing of a few bad dreams, Bryan Johnson’s Vulgar is an unclassifiably awful study in self- and audience-abuse. As spun by Johnson and the ever adolescent View Askew team (Kevin Smith co-produces and mugs his way through a supporting role), the humor potential disappears once destitute clown Will Carlson—a/k/a Vulgar, played by whiny Clerks star Brian Christopher O’Halloran—turns up in fishnets and bustier for a gig at a supposed bachelor party. Once there, he’s gang-raped and tortured by a venomous creep and his two grown sons. The remainder of the film chronicles Carlson’s recovery, improbable rise to TV fame, and subsequent extortion by the three goons, but it’s all a badly lit, interminable blur. The rationale for such punishing dreck is obvious: Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay and co-stars as Carlson’s buddy Syd, wants to make us squirm. He succeeds as much for a stunning lack of sympathy for Carlson’s plight as a troubling preoccupation with its nauseating specifics. If Johnson has some piteous nightmare cum fantasy to work out, pray he does so in the privacy of his shrink’s office next time around.

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