By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
The late, great film critic Gene Siskel believed movie roles are best defined not by their actions but their occupations. Give actors interesting jobs to play and you'll learn more — and care more — about their characters than pages of dialogue can express.
Siskel's rule of thumbs-up is a good place to begin shredding Life As We Know It, a sitcom pilot idea stretched to feature length boredom. This movie sticks its admittedly attractive stars into the two most overused and sexually stereotypical jobs in modern romantic comedy. The originality quotient goes down steeply from there.
Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is a woman, so she's given a kitchen-related occupation, in this case as owner of a pastry shop. Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) is a man, so a sports-related job is his lot in life as this movie knows it, directing TV broadcasts of NBA games. She is suitably anal retentive — life is a recipe to be closely followed — and he appropriately follows his instincts to the standard level of male dogdom.
Holly and Eric don't like each other, so it is guaranteed that they'll be in love by the end credits. Oh, they'll have challenges to that inevitability — a handsome mannequin (Josh Lucas) to tempt her before gracefully bowing out, an out-of-town gig for him. Not for an instant should the union be doubted, or the fingerprints of the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Matthew McConaughey on the script be ignored.
Parenthood brings these crazy kids together, after their mutual best friends leave their infant goddaughter Sophie orphaned. That twist sets the bipolar tone for Life As We Know It; a cheerful bubble bath can be interrupted by a phone call with news that somebody is dead. Director Greg Berlanti (a TV producer by trade) structures his movie with abrupt emotional spurts, as if commercials were waiting to be cued.
Which is too bad since Duhamel channels enough of that Vince Vaughn/Gerard Butler rom-com rogue to be likable, and for once Heigl doesn't appear to feel superior to the material. Maybe they're appealing solely by comparison to the actors around them, from Lucas' stiff romantic rival to a band of wacky neighbors lifted from Modern Family.
The baby angle forces Heigl and Duhamel to gamely endure smelly diapers, vomited formula and pediatric scares. The triplets playing Sophie are awwww-some, of course. But they can't goo-goo away the depression of sitting through another set of happy-time pop music montages and yet another race to the airport for last-ditch love. Life As We Know It is life as we've seen it in movies too many times before.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.