Alex Kurtzman’s People Like Us is quite possibly the best (or at least most interestingly) directed bad movie I’ve ever seen. The fact is, though, that Kurtzman has no one but himself to blame since he co-wrote this essay in soapy stupidity. (And as a director, he needs to shoulder some of the blame for Chris Pine frequently falling prey to the Corey Haim mouth-breathing school of acting.) It looks great and it’s cleverly edited to make the drama look much more urgent than it is. The problem with this is that it doesn’t take very long to realize that there’s nothing here to be even slightly excited about. Supposedly, the story is inspired by Kurtzman’s life. If that is indeed true, then his life has managed to be both improbable and dull.
The premise here is that hotshot, mildly unscrupulous and seemingly none-too-bright Sam (Chris Pine) gets himself in dutch with both his boss (Jon Favreau) and the Federal Trade Commission at exactly the same time that he has to deal with the death of his not-much-beloved record producer dad (played in flashbacks by TV actor Dean Chekvala). This is what is known as clever scripting — or it would be if his business and legal troubles really had anything much to do with the story — but it’s never more than tangential. Anyway, despite his best efforts not to, he and girlftiend Hannah (Olivia Wilde, TV’s House M.D.) fly out to Los Angeles just in time to miss the funeral — much to the understandable annoyance of his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). The real plot kicks in, however, when he learns that his father left him a shaving kit with $150,000 in it and instructions to take care of a woman, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and her child, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario, TV’s Are We There Yet?).
Though tempted to keep the money for himself, he does a little detective work and quickly discovers that Frankie is his unknown half-sister. Does he make himself known to her? Yes. Does he make it known to her that they are related? No, he does not — and this is where the movie runs smack into the wall of annoyance. Even admitting that Sam has evidenced no sign of much in the way of intellectual capacity, it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t realize that no good can come of his deception. But according to the film, apparently he doesn’t, so he keeps up the fiction until things get to a point where he’s backed into a corner. A falling out, and, you guessed it, the penultimate reel of gloom follows before trudging to a resolution that seems to more or less just forget his other problems. That may be for the best, because I was pretty darn grateful that it just stopped.
Yes, it has a pretty good cast (though I’ve yet to figure out why Mark Duplass was brought in and shoehorned into perhaps the most thankless role of the year) and it’s nice to look at, but so what? It’s built around a pretty dumb premise and boasts characters that have more relation to lazy writing than anything else — right down to the precocious, but troubled, child. Admirers of the polished and predictable might be more taken with it, but I’m not even convinced of that. Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality.