Starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks. Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. 14A. 115 min. Opens June 29.
Previously best known for providing dialogue for Optimus Prime, Transformers writer Alex Kurtzman attempts a metamorphosis into Cameron Crowe with People Like Us. It’s all there: The near-epic running time, the slick editing, the tastefully curated soundtrack cues (the Clash and Bob Dylan), and, of course, the charming but ethically challenged protagonist—a sort of junior Jerry Maguire acted in cut-rate Tom Cruise fashion by Chris Pine.
Coaxed home by the death of his record-producer father, professionally embattled re-sale seamster Sam (Pine) finds himself caught between three variably demanding and disapproving women: his long-suffering mother (Michelle Pfieffer), his law-student girlfriend (Olivia Wilde), and a stranger whom he learns via a family lawyer is his half-sister—and the sole beneficiary of their dad’s will. Faster than you can say “life-changing decision,” Sam takes his dad’s shaving kit full of cash to an AA meeting to see if Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) is worthy of the dough. Of course she’s got an adorable moppet kid and a host of problems that $150,000 would solve in a hurry.
People Like Us drags out the revelation of Sam’s true identity for almost two agonizing hours, utilizing a variety of delay tactics. The hero’s pseudo-courtship of a blood relation is frankly creepy, and while the film acknowledges that fact, it doesn’t do enough with it. It also drops Wilde’s character, dragging her back near the end to confirm for the audience what it (hopefully) already knows: that Sam has learned to see outside himself and think of other people.
Kurtzman and his co-writer Roberto Orci are the dramatic equivalent of Decepticons, disguising patently false emotional cues as real ones and expecting us not to notice. But not only is there less than meets the eye here, there’s nothing—except for the grim spectacle of the wonderfully talented Banks once again giving a bad movie more wit and gravitas than it deserves.