Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D'Addario, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sara Mornell, Philip Baker Hall, Dean Chekvala, Barbara Eve Harris
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality
Running Time: 115
Date: 06/15/2012

People Like Us (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Unreal 'People'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman has conjured up some of the biggest, loudest, and dumbest -- yet most successful -- movies of all time: The Legend of Zorro (2005), The Island (2005), Mission:Impossible III (2006), Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of theFallen (2009), Star Trek (2009), and Cowboys & Aliens (2011). Now apparently it's time for Kurtzman to make his directorial debut. Thankfully, he has chosen to make a much smaller, less noisy movie. But unfortunately, it's no less dumb.

Chris Pine stars as Sam, a jerk of a salesman, seen at the beginning of the movie giving his snappy patter. He learns that his father has died and though he tries to avoid going home for the funeral, his pretty girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) gets them there.

Sam hated his dad and hasn't much to say to his mom (Michelle Pfeiffer), and he's about to leave when the family lawyer (Philip Baker Hall) gives him a package from his dad. Inside is a wad of cash that he is to deliver to a certain Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario). After snooping around AA meetings, Sam discovers that Frankie is the half-sister he never knew about.

That's all fine, but guess what Sam does? He tries to get to know her without telling her who he is! She just thinks he's flirting with her, which is horribly cruel. Why does he do this? No particular reason, other than 1) he's a jerk, and 2) there wouldn't be a movie.

There are some other puzzling things like a decision that Sam's mom made that set this whole thing in motion, and the fact that young D'Addario has that same moptop haircut that every other Hollywood kid has had for the past ten years or so. (Aren't there barbers in Hollywood?)

But here's the kicker. Despite all the bad material, it turns out that Kurtzman has an amazing touch for actresses. Banks, who is mainly known for her comic chops, gives perhaps her best performance here, wounded but strong, and Pfeiffer gives her finest performance in at least two decades; both are worthy of nominating. (It's also interesting that all three of the female leads get to slap and hit Chris Pine at some point.)

The movie also gets some points by making Sam's dad an old A&R man, working in the music industry and amassing an amazing collection of LPs. Sam spends a great deal of time in the old man's study, and we get references to everyone from Bob Dylan to the Buzzcocks, showing that the filmmakers have actually listened to smart music, but perhaps failed to understand it.

That aside, Kurtzman's movie is slick and choppy and overlong, not too surprising given that he seems to have learned his craft from the likes of Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams. However, I suppose the movie gets credit in the summer season for trying to be a movie for grownups about grownups, but I just wish it had had the courage to be honest rather than using a gimmick about lying.

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