‘People Like Us’ relies too heavily on plot contrivance

  • Thu Jun 28th, 2012 8:49am
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

A well-meant but completely misfired project, “People Like Us” is one of those movies that rely entirely on a single plot contrivance for its drama. One character could end a great deal of confusion by simply disclosing something to another character, but doesn’t do it for most of the story.

Yes, this could happen in real life. That doesn’t make it any less tedious to sit through.

The protagonist is Sam (Chris Pine), called back home when his father dies. Although he didn’t much care for the old man, he’ll support his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and then leave as soon as possible.

Complication: Dad left 150 grand to Sam’s half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks). Bigger complication: Sam did not know he had a half-sister. Now he’s charged with finding her and giving her the dough.

Finding her is easy. For reasons that remain mysterious to all but screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Sam can’t bring himself to reveal his actual identity to Frankie, which results in a series of sequences that become increasingly uncomfortable, as Sam becomes friendly with Frankie and her young son.

Granted, Sam is portrayed as something of a screw-up. But it’s hard to see how any grown person could fail to see that his silence is going to make things much, much worse when the truth eventually comes out, as we all know it will.

Kurtzman and Orci have been profitable writers on many blockbuster projects, from the “Transformers” franchise to the “Star Trek” re-do. With Kurtzman directing, “People Like Us” is a clear shift in emphasis, but for the most part its people behave as though they were giant alien robots or starship crew members.

At least in a character piece like this, you can look for the actors to shine. Here, too, the film’s a mixed bag, although it is pleasant to see Michelle Pfeiffer moving her career gracefully along with a non-glam performance.

Chris Pine has displayed a likable quality on screen, and his turn as Capt. Kirk in the re-booted “Star Trek” was especially winning. It’s hard to fault him for his vague work here, because how do you play a character whose behavior is artificial in almost every way?

As the sister, Elizabeth Banks is pretty and smart and funny, as she always is in her hard-working career (in the last 12 months she’s also been in “The Hunger Games,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Man on a Ledge” and “Our Idiot Brother”).

Maybe her ubiquity makes her seem a little too familiar in this film, because the character never quite comes to life as a credible human being.

Starved for something other than superheroes, male strippers and presidential vampire hunters, you could do worse than “People Like Us” as a summer change of pace. But even the handkerchief moments feel unreal here.

“People Like Us” (2½ stars)

Chris Pine plays a man searching for the half-sister (Elizabeth Banks) he never knew he had. The problem for this well-meaning movie comes when he doesn’t tell her who he is, a plot contrivance that stretches out the situation in a tedious way. With Michelle Pfeiffer.

Rated: PG-13, for subject matter, language.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.