People Like Us

by Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider

EXPECTATIONS: Wow, does this look insanely bland. Seriously, Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks are like the perfect storm of "Eh... Meh." Because these actors are neither good nor bad enough to warrant reaction, let's look at the director, Alex Kurtzman. Sure, he wrote Star Trek '09 and Mission: Impossible III, but he also wrote two Transformers movies and Cowboys and Aliens, so that's pretty much a wash. (Wait, how does the guy who wrote those movies make his directorial debut with this?) Okay, there's clearly nothing here to make a prediction with, so I'm just going to say this: When you go into a movie knowing that a little incest will be the only thing that makes it interesting, that's not a good sign.

REALITY: Look at these pretty white people. Look at their problems. You have such problems, pretty white people! Honestly, my entire review could just be that, but in the interest of professionalism, I'll expound.

People Like Us tells the story of Sam (Chris Pine's eyebrows), a salesman of some sort who is in debt to somebody for some reason and is facing federal trial and the loss of his job when he learns his father has died. While reluctantly sorting through his father's estate, he discovers that $150,000 has been set aside for... not him. The money is intended for working mom Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her troubled son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), whom Sam discovers are his sister and nephew he never knew about, from the family his father abandoned.

Pretending to be a recovering addict to meet Frankie at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Sam works his way into their life while debating when/how/if to tell Frankie the truth. The whole time, the pair of them air out their Daddy issues, while only one knows they're about the same Daddy. Frankie's abandonment clearly leads her to make bad decisions as a young adult, including a drug addiction and a fatherless child. Sam is upset with his father because... he was kind of a jerkface.

Ha ha! Problems.Ha ha! Problems.

The main problem is that we have a completely imaginary conflict going on here. Of course Sam is going to give her the money, we all know that, and it would ruin the "nice guy, rough around the edges" image Pine's built up if the film spent one second trying to make us think he actually wouldn't. It's bad enough that we know this is going to happen, but Sam is self-aware enough that he has to realize that it's going to happen, too. Everyone, characters included, knows that if Sam wasn't going to be a good person, he would hop on a plane and go far, far away that instant. The plot falls apart the instant it starts to be a plot. There is no issue here, you are all wasting our time. (Also, wouldn't it be easier to just give her $75,000 and bail?)

There is a saving grace in the performances put in by both Pine and Banks. Banks in particular has finally managed to perfect her "tough-talking pretty girl routine," and it makes the moments where she shows the weakness of an ex-junkie that much better. Most of the film's more entertaining sequences involve Sam rumbling around his father's man cave, practicing his charisma on no one. As good as these things are, they just keep a movie stuck on the spin cycle far longer than it possibly should be.

Just to break up the monotony, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde drop in for about three scenes each as Sam's mother and girlfriend. (Note that those are two different people. This movie already has enough semi-incestuous undertones.) They are then cast aside so we can further along the schlock. Admittedly, there is enough charm in Pine and Banks' chemistry that it carries the saccharine a long way, but not quite far enough to justify the film's existence.

Honestly, there's not enough strong material here for me to recommend this film. It's not offensive or terrible, but it's not particularly good, either. It's bland and boring, there's no way around it, and right in the middle of the summer movie season, we're best off forgetting it exists. Judging from the box office numbers, most of you already have.

Chris Pine7/10
Elizabeth Banks8/10
Actual Conflict0/10
Creepy FactorLow to Middling

MINORITY REPORT: These movies would always work out better if the guy would just come out and say "Hey, I'm your brother. Surprise!" Then again, There Will Be Blood reminds us that even that approach isn't always so great. Having secret relatives is tough, I guess. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

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