By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci are both known for their screenplays for summer blockbuster fare such as Star Trek, Transformers, Mission Impossible III and Cowboys & Aliens.  Kurtzman makes his directorial debut with this atypical summer movie.  Working with his writing partner Orci and screenwriter Jody Lambert, he takes on a film project completely different from his usual material and manages to succeed to a certain degree. While flawed, People Like Us proves that there is much more to Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci than what meets the eye. I know. I know. That’s a corny reference to Transformers, but it’s true.  As an adult dramatic story, a first for Kurtman and Orci,  People Like Us works as a compelling, sometimes sad, though uplifting piece.

Sam (Chris Pine), a smooth and fast talking salesman in New York, receives news that his estranged father Jerry (Dean Chekvala) has died after a long and tough battle with cancer.  Sam reluctantly returns to his hometown of Los Angeles with his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) to attend the funeral and see his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).  After the funeral, he meets with his father’s lawyer Ike Rafferty (Philip Baker Hall) who informs him of his inheritance and his father’s request to offer the sum of $150 to a secret daughter and her son.  The result of an affair, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) lived without her father Jerry most of her life.  Raised by her struggling mother, she now struggles to raise her troubled son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) and works hard as a bartender/waitress to barely scrape by. Afraid to reveal his true identity, Sam meets Frankie and Josh and forms an instant bond with them.  Things get more complicated as the three grow close and it becomes increasingly difficult for Sam to share the truth.

I must say that Kurtzman and Orci, who have shown some proficiency as action and science fiction writers, handle this story nicely.  They, with Lambert, develop the story and characters descently, and I felt a genuine connection and empathy with their troubles.  My main issue is that some of the drama comes across as slightly corny and rehashed soap opera fodder.  The issues associated with Sam withholding his identity, and the build up to his reveal doesn’t really offer anything excitingly new.  Most people who have seen enough soaps or adult television dramas, especially of the Lifetime variety, will find the themes strikingly familiar.  In fact, the whole production feels like a television movie and not one that demands an audience in theaters.

The movie does feature some wonderful performances by its cast.  I feel that Elizabeth Banks really shines here as the strong, tough, and street-wise Frankie.  I have always felt Banks underrated and deserving of some truly amazing work.  I think this high profile role, and a strong dramatic one at that, proves her abilities to handle some seriously challenging material.  Pine offers a solid turn as Sam and shows that he can do more than just look handsome and fight bad guys.  Michelle Pfeiffer is incredible as Lillian, but her limited screen time left me wanting more.  High praise and kudos must also go to Michael Hall D’Addario, a young and talented kid who obviously has a bright future ahead.

I will go so far as to recommend this movie for a matinee at the theater, because the compelling story and characters will make it a worthwhile trip.  Otherwise, the weaknesses in the script hold me back from recommending spending top dollar.  Honestly, not much about this movie screams “big screen” which is ironic as Kurtzman and Orci normally pen movies that do.   Despite the flaws, these writers prove that they can ably handle more mature and dramatic material.  I find it refreshing that they challenged themselves with a completely different type of movie.


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