A Man Tracks Down his Long-Lost Half-Sister in "People Like Us"

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 27, 2012

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Sister act: Sam (Chris Pine, left) befriends Frankie (Elizabeth Banks, center), but doesn’t tell her he’s her brother.

Grade: D

It’s awfully easy to make fun of Tom Cruise these days, and I certainly spill a fair amount of ink doing so in these pages. But when he’s not dangling off tall buildings or lip-syncing to auto-tuned Guns N’ Roses songs, there is a certain type of role the narrowly focused superstar can play in his sleep.

Of course, I’m talking about the fast-talking, callow yuppie scum in desperate need of redemption, and I’m not sure I ever truly appreciated how great Cruise is in this sort of thing until watching Chris Pine flounder his way through People Like Us. The film is a silly, perfectly awful family drama from first-time director Alex Kurtzman, who is perhaps best known for writing Transformers movies. (Yes, apparently somebody writes those.)

Pine is a fine young actor, who in the recent Star Trek reboot managed the unlikely feat of slipping into William Shatner’s iconic Captain Kirk role with just the right amount of cornball gusto. But he’s at a loss here. First glimpsed speed-jabbering his way through a vaguely defined and possibly illegal job as some sort of corporate barter executive, Pine has an easygoing Midwestern charm that gets lost when he spends most of his time babbling and pacing around in expensive suits. His Sam is supposed to be a smooth up-and-comer who has been living beyond his means and is now drowning in debt, and one wrong word from his grouchy boss (Jon Favreau) lands him in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission.

As if on cue, Sam’s estranged father dies. He does what he can to avoid the funeral, dragging along his doormat girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) and receiving a hearty slap in the face from Mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) when he eventually returns to Los Angeles for the funeral. But there’s something hinky about the old man’s will, which leaves Sam with a shaving kit full of hundred-dollar bills and instructions to deliver them to another family altogether—yes, it’s the long lost half-sister he never knew he had.

Elizabeth Banks milks the role for every bit of melodramatic oomph she can muster, as a put-upon barmaid with a delinquent son (Michael Hall D’Addario) and a drinking problem that lends itself to several showy would-be Oscar clips at AA meetings. She’s a tough broad, barely muddling her way through life, so Pine’s initial reaction is to do … nothing.

See, there wouldn’t be a movie if Chris Pine just walked up to Elizabeth Banks and explained that they were siblings. Instead, People Like Us drags us through one inane misunderstanding after another. First he befriends her weirdo son, taking the kid to a record store and issuing long, over-written lectures about which bands to listen to before you can finally graduate to digging Television. Then, he hangs around at her bar, and her AA meetings, goofily making doe-eyes and behaving in such a manner that any sane person would go right for a restraining order.

Inexplicably, Pine becomes part of the family, attending outings with Banks and the twerp, clutching his secret stash of cash and wondering when or if he should ever tell this poor girl that they’re related. She’s a horrible parent, leaving her adolescent child with a creepy, over-attentive adult male stranger all the time. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer looms around the homestead, attempting to cry through her Botox and occasionally throwing things. Olivia Wilde disappears because the movie doesn’t have anything for her to do any more.

You don’t suppose Banks might catch on when she realizes that Pine has the same last name as her recently deceased father? Nope. Such easy logical questions are far beyond the interest of People Like Us . Instead, we’re treated to a constant barrage of insipid musical montages, during which Pine is forced to furrow his brow and stare blankly into the middle distance. He’s desperately trying to mimic Tom Cruise’s performance in Rain Man, and wears the affectations like an ill-fitting suit.

Shot in burnished, smoky browns by cinematographer Salvatore Totino, People Like Us overextends the showy tracking shots and shadowy interiors in an attempt to hide the fact that nothing actually happens in this movie. We’ve already wasted 90 minutes before the revelations finally spill, and Banks over-emotes until the cows come home, as the movie keeps falling back on phony screenwriter’s devices and long-winded speeches that never for a moment feel remotely genuine. And if it sounds like I have forgotten that Pine’s Sam is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, that’s OK because so does the movie.

All of this could have been resolved with a single fucking conversation.

People Like Us
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer

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