"PEOPLE LIKE US" has a pop hook that sticks in your jaw no matter how desperately you want to wriggle off.
It stars Chris Pine as Sam, a shiftless salesman who hates his father so much he deliberately shows up late for his funeral, only to find that dad has had the last laugh — he's left Sam a giant wad of cash and instructed him to give it to someone else — a young woman (Elizabeth Banks) he's never met.
A stinging, two-pronged insult to resentful Sam, who believes his distant father owes him something, and who also needs the money to bail himself out of a major financial and legal jam. He decides to befriend the mystery woman (Banks) to see if she warrants the fat inheritance.
She obviously does, and here any resemblance to true life dissolves, as any actual human person would immediately disclose the hidden mission (Sam's girlfriend, Olivia Wilde, sensibly demands that he do so). Or not, and the movie would be over.
In this Hollywood version, screenwriter and director Alex Kurtzman (better known for such movie character pieces as "Transformers" and "Cowboys vs. Aliens") stretches the Big Reveal out, and you grow to resent the movie's dithering. And yet, "People Like Us," is often highly watchable — it has a glib, New Hollywood sheen to it, but a glorious Old Hollywood premise — you could easily see this in the hands of Douglas Sirk, with Barbara Stanwyck and Glenn Ford.
The cast it has is good enough, especially Banks, who saves the movie with a very nice portrait of a tough-broad single mom struggling to outgrow her drug addict past, while juggling a job and her pain-in-the-butt son (never has a movie kid been so in need of a haircut and a muzzle, perhaps a tasing).
I didn't think I'd ever see Banks top her five minutes in "The Forty-Year-Old-Virgin" as the girl in the book store, but she's outdone herself here, in a large, meaty dramatic role.
There's less to do, alas, for Michelle Pfeiffer, stuck in a role (Sam's mother) small enough to make you wonder when she gets to make her big red-eyed speech — the less you wonder, the more surprised you'll be about the late-stage revelations.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.
REVIEW | ss 1/2
People Like Us
Directed by Alex Kurtzman. With Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 114 minutes
Parent's Guide: PG-13 (adult themes)
Playing at: Area theaters