Movie review: “People Like Us”

By Columbus Alive
From the June 28, 2012 edition

“People Like Us” is an earnest attempt to make a meaningful drama about family and personal growth, but despite a decent cast (Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks are the stars), it ultimately fails.

Director/co-writer Alex Kurtzman and his writing partner Roberto Orci aren’t usually known for crafting human films — they’ve long written together producing big-budget films like “Transformers” and “Star Trek” — and this film’s attempts to tug at the heartstrings are overly obvious and predictable.

When workaholic Sam (Pine) finds out his music producer father has died, he’s resistant to returning home. It’s not just because he’d rather work, but also because his relationship with his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and now-deceased father has always been strained.

As Sam is clearing up his father’s estate he finds out he had a sister, Frankie (Banks), he never knew about. In his father’s will, Sam was asked to take $150,000 to Frankie’s son, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario).

Instead of just approaching his newfound family members with the truth, Sam attempts to learn about them and unintentionally forms a bond while lying through his teeth.

The big problem here is that Pine’s character is so inconsistently written. At times Sam is a Jerry Maguire-level jerk, and others he’s supposed to be sympathetic. Banks’ single-mom character is mostly cliche, but at least it is consistent. The best lines are given to young Josh, and D’Addario is pretty good.

The strained, overly sentimental dialogue foisted upon the leads mostly arrests their performances.

While the characters are problematic, the overall plot and pacing of “People Like Us” is an utter mess. You can predict every beat before it happens, and the second and third acts become an unbearable drag.

“People Like Us” had the potential to be a decent — if lowest-common denominator — drama, but first-time director Kurtzman is just in over his head. The film follows a romantic-comedy formula — with meet cutes all over the place — but because it’s brother and sister, it’s really not a rom-com. It’s basically a Hallmark movie with better production and actors that make up for some — but in no way all — of the flaws.