Published Jun 28, 2012In People Like Us, Chris Pine plays Sam, a fast-talking "facilitator" who oversees bartering between businesses. Sam hustles, hits a financial snag and finds himself being investigated, all before the opening montage has ended. By the time he receives the news that his father has died, it's clear that the character is due for some major life changes.
The set-up feels like an appropriate choice for first-time director Alex Kurtzman, working from a script he co-wrote with Jody Lambert and long-time collaborator Robert Orci. Since cutting their teeth in television, Kurtzman and Orci have made names for themselves writing blockbusters for Michael Bay (the first two Transformers, The Island) and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III).
When Sam reluctantly returns home and begins reconnecting with his family, one gets the sense that there's a deeper meaning to the character's delayed self-discovery. In his father's will, Sam is left a record collection and a request to deliver $150,000 to his long-lost sister and nephew. The film has some hurdles to overcome before it gets to the real story of sibling bonding ― namely that this is the same plot as Rain Man, only without the autism ― but damned if they aren't written slickly.
For most of the movie, Sam's sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), has no idea she's quasi-flirting with her brother, but the film deftly addresses it and moves on. It should come as no surprise that People Like Us succeeds with these idiosyncrasies. At their best, the screenplays by Kurtzman and Orci juggle humour and action as well as character and plot (see 2009's Star Trek reboot).
In an effort to avoid the writer/director trap of being too precious with their own words, however, Kurtzman sometimes lets things feel a little too slick ― one montage of Chris Pine getting drunk unfortunately recalls the manic tonal shifts of the extended montage that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
And while Banks gives one of the strongest performances of her career as a single-mother and recovering alcoholic, Olivia Wilde, playing Pine's implausibly forgiving girlfriend, doesn't have much more beneath the surface than the average Michael Bay supporting actress.
Still, like the best blockbusters, People Like Us comes overstuffed with fleeting surprises, from its strong supporting cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Philip Baker Hall) to its flashy soundtrack. It's just questionable ― for Pine's character, the filmmakers and the audience ― how much any of this will stick. (Dreamworks)