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Life or Something Like It
"Unappetizing TV dinner"
Dir. Stephen Herek; writ. John Scott Shepherd and Dana Stevens; feat. Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns, Tony Shalhoub, Christian Kane, James Gammon, Melissa Errico, Stockard Channing (PG-13)

Ever since the 1950s, when the upstart medium of television almost put motion picture theaters out of business, movies have been belittling the small screen. In many films, including Network, Broadcast News, and Up Close and Personal, Hollywood producers, those connoisseurs of kitsch, use the TV tube as a bull's eye for taking aim at avarice, vulgarity, and exploitation. Life or Something Like It extends that tradition of pot shots, of cracked pots calling kettles black when either would do anything to stay out of the red.

Angelina Jolie is not only unappealing but unconvincing as Lanie Kerigan, a ditzy and ambitious Seattle TV reporter whose trademark is a platinum blonde mop. One day, Prophet Jack (Shalhoub), a homeless seer whose predictions about football scores and hailstorms are always accurate, tells her she is fated to die within a week. Convinced that her life is perfect, Lanie is unnerved. "If I found out that my life is a meaningless quest for the approval of others, I'd be upset, too," says Pete (Burns), the irreverent cameraman who considers Lanie "the single most delusional, self-involved, self-absorbed woman I have ever met," but who, according to the inexorable laws of screwball comedy, is fated to embrace her by the final frame. Despite an inspired lampoon of a simpering, conniving TV tyrant modeled on Barbara Walters and played by Stockard Channing, it does not come soon enough. Look for a blatant case of product placement during a scene that pitches Bose as the world's best radios, and look out for low-brow movies that perch on high moral ground. Steven G. Kellman

 
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Dora van der Groen plays the loving but dependent Pauline in Pauline and Paulette.

Pauline and Paulette
"Short story inflated into feature"
Dir. Lieven Debrauwer; writ. Debrauwer and Jaak Boon; feat. Dora van der Groen, Ann Petersen, Rosemarie Bergmans, Julienne De Bruyn, Idwig Stephane (PG)

Though 66, Pauline (van der Groen) relies on her sister Martha (De Bruyn) to tie her shoelaces and spread her jam. "Martha gone in big car" is how Pauline, brain-impaired, conceives of her protective sister's sudden death. Their other sisters, Paulette (Petersen) and Cecile (Bergmans), conceive of it as personal disaster, since Martha's will names them as heirs only if they manage to keep Pauline out of an institution. Cecile, who has been living in Brussels, tries to adopt her feeble sister, but her snooty lover, Albert (Stephane), just cannot abide Pauline. When she speaks Flemish, he speaks French. Pauline seeks refuge with Paulette, a proud and portly diva who runs a dress shop and sings in local operettas. Pauline and Paulette is the delicate tale of how Paulette learns to love her sister. Stubbornly slight, a short story inflated into a feature film, Pauline and Paulette will not knock your socks off, but it will make you grateful for the ability to tie your laces. Steven G. Kellman

Piñero
"A poet's brief life blighted"
Writ. & dir. Leon Ichaso; feat. Benjamin Bratt, Talisa Soto, Giancarlo Esposito, Rita Moreno, Mandy Patinkin, Nelson Vasquez, Michael Irby (R)

Through no fault of his own, Miguel Piñero figured in the most embarrassing episode in San Antonio's cultural history prior to City Council's declaration of war on the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. In 1985, Bernardo Eureste, a Council member who made himself in effect municipal arts czar, decided, without bothering to see it, that a film adaptation of Piñero's prison drama Short Eyes was obscene. He threatened to padlock the Guadalupe Theater if it proceeded with a scheduled screening of the film. But the Guadalupe, then still a fledgling operation, called Eureste's bluff, and those few of us who ventured to the embattled building late saw nothing unusual beyond a gritty slice of jailhouse life.

The appearance of Piñero here now lacks the same drama, either extrinsic or intrinsic. It is the disjointed account of a brief, disjointed life. Dead of cirrhosis at 40, Piñero (Bratt) was a shooting star who could not balance his accomplishments as playwright, poet, and actor with his compulsion to shoot heroin and commit armed robbery. "Writing is one-half inspiration, one-half inhalation," snorts the junkie founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe who ended up homeless. Some of the many friends he alienated scattered Piñero's ashes on the Lower East Side. The scenes that writer-director Leon Ichaso scatters throughout his sullen biopic make us mourn the man's blighted promise more than his life. Steven G. Kellman

Editor's note: No, you didn't miss Piñero ... yet. The film, which we reviewed in our April 18-24 issue, did not open in San Antonio on April 19, and is now scheduled to open May 3 at Regal Fiesta 16.

The Scorpion King
"An ideal drive-in picture"
Dir. Chuck Russell; writ. Jonathan Hales; feat. Dwayne Johnson, Steven Brand, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli, Ralph Moeller, Scott L. Schwartz (PG-13)

It's a sequel, or maybe a prequel, or maybe more of a schmequel to those recent craptastic, cashtronic Mummy pictures, starring Dwayne Johnson, the current wrasslin' sensation and future action hero known as the Rock, who acquits himself admirably in his role as Mathayus, last surviving member of a clan of assassins hired by a bunch of oppressed rulers to snuff the titular malefactor's pet sorcerer, thus depriving him of his way-unfair advantage of being able to see into the future, not to mention the rest of the movie. There's a James Bond-style pre-credits action-opening and lotsa swordplay and fisticuffs, and Mr. Rock uses very few cheesy wrestling moves as he kicks ass all over the desert. Gore and the naughty body parts of the curvalicious Kelly Hu are not in sight (rating: PG-13), and the film (thankfully) moves right along. An ideal drive-in picture - if you miss some dialogue, don't sweat it. Also featuring the world's smartest movie camel. — Joe MacLeod

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