Fri 29 Jun 2012
Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have become well-known names in the science fiction TV & film community in the last few years. They’ve been writing and producing everything from the first two “Transformers” films, to the reboot of “Star Trek”, to “Fringe” (and I consider the TV reboot of “Hawaii Five-0” sci-fi also anyway). Aside from “Fringe”, every one of those properties was resurrected for audiences, cashing in on nostalgia and doing anything but ask consumers to boldly go anywhere they haven’t gone before.
Why am I being so harsh? Well, for Kurtzman’s feature film directorial debut, he went with “People Like Us” (co-written by him, Orci and their friend Jody Lambert). It’s harder to pinpoint the source material as there aren’t any 30-year old lunchboxes floating around with these characters on it but the material feels like a dozen other films that have come before it, all smashed together like a haphazard sandwich.
The story revolves around Sam (Chris Pine), a man trying so hard to seem like he’s in control that it’s far from surprising to discover it’s all a mask put on to cope with Daddy issues. The catharsis begins with the early demise of his father, which forces Sam to confront the truth of his home life. Along the way, his mom (Michelle Pfeiffer), girlfriend (Olivia Wilde), and newfound sister (Elizabeth Banks) all act like a Greek chorus of sorts; teaching him a different lesson about himself and feeling more and more like plot devices rather than fleshed-out characters once one stops to think about it.
Really, that’s the most disappointing aspect of the film. Casting Banks and Pine as brother and sister was a great choice. They play off each other tremendously well, and I’d be lying if there wasn’t a generic emotional truth to their performances that works. The problem stems from manipulating the scenarios and resolutions with such a heavy hand that, at times, it feels like some elements of the screen should just be blank images with numbers on it, waiting to be painted the corresponding color. It’s painfully obvious that this is a passion project for Kurtzman, who based much of this on an exaggerated version of his own life. Passion is good, not taking a step back to see the bigger picture is not.
The story progresses like so many other similar tales before it, with perhaps the only cliché element not on display some sort of precocious Jack Russell terrier that provides poignant and timely comic relief. Worse still is that the performances are cheapened by the formulaic plot. The opportunity to create a truly lasting and moving effort slips away from Kurtzman, no matter how many emotionally-manipulative camera shots he employs – either via extreme close-ups or the repeated use of light to symbolize growth and understanding.
All that being said, if you’re not a very critical moviegoer, the chemistry of the actors is good enough to override the more glaring missteps in the script. However, should you be the type of person who prefers not being led by the hand so overtly, “People Like Us” may not be the best choice and I can only give it a 3 out of 5. It’s nice to see Pine working hard to ensure he’s not simply Captain Kirk for the rest of his career (I’m one of the 17 people who really liked “This Means War”) and hopefully he’ll continue to take roles that don’t require a Vulcan BFF. Seeing as it’s the summer and the movieplexes are awash in testosterone and explosions, this is quasi-decent counter-programming. It’s just a shame no one bothered to ask that the story not feel like some Mad Libs version of a screenplay. The potential was there to do much more.