The movies love a smooth-talking wheeler-dealer almost as much as they adore a good redemption story, and you can practically hear the seventh art swooning the moment Sam Harper (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) opens his motormouth. Introduced in midpatter, this corporate “facilitator” nabs inventory overages for industrial bartering purposes (“It’s like being on the ground floor of money!” he coos to a client) and uses his smarmy charm as currency; Billy Wilder would have had a field day with this guy. It’s also apparent that something is fundamentally broken in Sam, especially when he tries to weasel his way out of attending his father’s funeral. A famous record producer, Pops never gave his kid anything but, posthumously, a super-bitchin’ vinyl collection (cue super-bitchin’ soundtrack) and a cigar box filled with cash. The latter is intended for Frankie (Elizabeth Banks)—a bartender who’s as bitter and adept in lobbing screenwriterese screwballs as Sam is. Which isn’t surprising, given that she’s the illegitimate sister he never knew he had.
It isn’t spoilery to say that these two banterers bond, even though Sam keeps their relation secret, or that Frankie’s son (Michael Hall D’Addario) finds a desperately needed father figure in this sympathetic stranger—or even that a whole lot of healing will happen before the end credits. That’s how Movies Like This work, so it’s just a question of how deftly screenwriter-turned-director Alex Kurtzman’s debut feature can emotionally manipulate you before the narrative house of cards collapses and things go from sweet-and-sour to full-on NutraSweet. For the record, the dip starts right around the halfway mark, once Sam’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer, thrown a bone) drops a teary monologue and the best-day-ever montages begin to creep in. Along with screenwriting partner (and one of this movie's co-writers) Roberto Orci, Kurtzman has contributed to the Transformers, Mission: Impossible and rebooted Star Trek franchises, and you can feel how happy he is to be dealing with scenarios that favor actual human beings over robots and aliens. The pity is that the people in People Like Us ultimately don’t feel any more dimensional than the archetypes dutifully dotting his lowest-denominator multiplex fodder. He's just picked a different set of clichés to ransack.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear