People Like Us
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
People Like Us is a prime example of that most bogus of movies, the kind that could be classified under the generic heading, “Just Tell Her, Already.”
The entire film tilts on the highly dubious premise that a man named Sam (Chris Pine), having discovered a previously unknown half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), would enter her life in a big way yet fail to disclose their familial ties.
There’s not just blood riding on this but also bucks.
Sam has been enjoined by his late father, a ne’er-do-well L.A. music producer who sired Frankie on the side, into delivering to her a shaving kit containing $150,000 in cash.
The command and the money both came at the will reading following the father’s sudden death.
Freewheeling daddy-o went to his grave feeling guilty about neglecting Frankie, who grew to become the alcoholic single mom of a precocious 11-year-old son, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario).
Pops wasn’t the greatest father to Sam, either, having ditched his young son and his wife Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) so he could sneak across town and start the new union that produced Frankie.
So why no dough for Sam, too?
Maybe it’s because he’s a hotshot New York salesman, as writer-turned-director Alex Kurtzman establishes with head-spinning speed at the outset.
Sam is a corporate barterer, with a gift for conning people into trading piles of stuff they don’t need for piles of stuff they don’t really want.
Maybe, too, it’s because Sam and dad didn’t get along. Neither did Sam and Lillian, who still maintain glacial relations.
It probably qualifies as irony that Sam, a guy with so much moxie, suddenly loses his cojones when confronted with a situation that could — and should — be solved quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Instead he just hangs around confusing both Frankie and the girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) about his intentions.
Here’s one possible big-tell scenario, Sam to Frankie: “Sorry about your loss, but it’s one we share. Your dad was also my dad. Yes, he had secrets, but he secretly cared about you and Josh.”
Here’s another, blunter: “Hey! Turns out we had the same dad! He really was an a-hole, wasn’t he? But he left you a pile of loot!”
Either one would get the job done, but of course if Sam were actually to do something like this, the movie would be a short, not a feature — or even better, no movie at all.
It’s not that the acting is so bad. Everyone hits their marks with cable-movie efficiency, with the exception of Mark Duplass, who plays possibly the year’s most unnecessary character, as Frankie’s neighbourly nookie pal.
The directing and ADHD editing are terrible, but the writing is the main villain of this soap opera.
It’s on the level of what you’d expect from a screenwriting committee that includes Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who scripted such prose puddles as Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (they also did Star Trek, obviously a fluke).
People Like Us is neither funny enough for comedy or serious enough for real drama.
There’s no hint here of Sam seeking to keep the $150,000 or of an incest angle that a braver director would pursue (imagine what Catherine Breillat or Atom Egoyan might do with this material).
Kurtzman and Orci can’t even figure out a how to give the film, with its obvious trajectory, an ending that doesn’t feel completely fake.
I’m not buying the claim this was based on a true story.
If there are people really like this, please keep them far, far away from us.
Oh, and just tell her, already.
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.