Sam (Chris Pine) is a salesman of some sort. As the film opens, he closes one huge deal while learning that another has gone horribly wrong. On top of this problem, Sam returns to his apartment to be informed by his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) that his father has died. Sam reluctantly returns to his childhood home, where his father’s attorney (Philip Baker Hall) gives him his father’s shaving kit, which contains a note and one hundred fifty thousand dollars. The money could solve Sam’s problem at work, but his father’s dying wish is that Sam give the money to his daughter, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), from an extra-marital affair. This comes as quite a shock to Sam who tracks down Frankie and her 11 year-old son Josh (D’Addario). But for some reason, he decides not to tell Frankie who he is and eventually ends up befriending her son, while also keeping his secret. Meanwhile, things with his job are deteriorating along with the relationship with his girlfriend. And Sam is frustrated even more as he fights to keep his deceased father’s request and the extra-marital affair from his mother Lillian (Pfeiffer).
Featuring a dream cast led by the new Captain Kirk Chris Pine, director Alex Kurtzman works from a script he co-wrote with “Star Trek” alum Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert. The plot relies heavily on a flawed conceit that steadily loses any of its punch as the clever extra-marital mystery is extended nearly the length of the film. The “will he tell Frankie and Lillian” question permeates the narrative often with frustrating results. And at even turn, the script inserts convenient plot twists that largely fall flat.
While keeping the secret becomes ever more ludicrous with regard to Frankie and Josh, it works fairly well with Lillian. And Michelle Pfeiffer probably gives her best performance in years. Of course, my appreciation for her work here is no doubt related to the weakness of the material, and Pfeiffer easily lifts the story here above its Hallmark Hall of Fame movie origins. But the odd relationship between Frankie and Sam will induce plenty of eye-rolling as it proceeds. And the strained credibility of so much of the story weakens the ultimate pay off as the film concludes. This is really a pity, because there are story elements that could have worked. For example, Sam’s father was a music producer who had 6 rules that he lived by both in business and life. Instead of using these rules to structure the story, the script buries them with anti-climatic results.
“People Like Us” is a movie with ambitions but a script that isn’t up to the challenge. And the fault isn’t with the actors but with the directing and writing choices made when producing the film. The past work of director Kurtzman and Orci is centered on the fantasy and science fiction genre with heavy doses of action. The only part of the team with drama chops could arguably be co-writer Jody Lambert who directed a 2008 documentary feature called “Of All the Things,” which sounds very good, but I’ve not seen. “People Like Us” sadly feels like the lesser melodramas that act as subplots in an action film. And unfortunately for Kurtzman and his team, there isn’t a big action packed conclusion to cover up all the significant dramatic shortcomings.