PEOPLE LIKE US
DIRECTED BY Alex Kurtzman
STARS Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks
Michael Hall D'Addario and Elizabeth Banks in People Like Us (Photo: DreamWorks)
Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are best known as action-script specialists, whipping out screenplays both good (the Star Trek reboot, TV's Alias) and bad (Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens), so it's a modest surprise to see their names attached to the family drama People Like Us. Maybe they needed a break from crafting gems for Optimus Prime to speak ("At the end of this day, one shall stand, one shall fall!"), or maybe they figured this was their Oscar-winning Ordinary People — at any rate, the middling result will doubtless send them scurrying back to the various cash cows grazing in their fields. People Like Us works in spurts, but that's almost entirely due to the contributions of its actors.
Chris Pine plays hustling businessman Sam, who learns after his estranged father's death that the old man had a second family on the side. Sam visits Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), the half-sister he never knew he had, but rather than reveal his identity, he elects to bide his time and pose as a concerned AA colleague instead. This narrative contrivance, which has been employed so often in movies that it deserves both a retirement party and a funeral, blocks scripters Kurtzman (who also directed), Orci and Jody Lambert from ever fully delving into the worthy subjects of familial betrayal and reconciliation, keeping viewers as distant from the characters as the characters are from each other.
Some superlative turns help significantly: Michael Hall D'Addario never makes an open play for sympathy as Frankie's troubled son, while Olivia Wilde brings some outsider perspective as Sam's sensible girlfriend. Best of all is Banks as the harried single mom who's repeatedly being dealt right cross punches every time she turns around. Come to think of it, Banks is frequently the best thing about any movie in which she appears — tell me again why she isn't a huge star?