Call them Lying Dingbat Procrastinator movies: films in which a main character, motivated by selfishness, cluelessness and fear, postpones telling the truth to another main character and winds up digging himself into a massive hole.
This takes several reels. The lies plunge him deeper and deeper. He makes dumber and dumber mistakes. At various points, the viewer may want to punch the Lying Dingbat in the nose; chances are good that someone in the movie will eventually do so instead. Hooray.
No matter how well-made, well-acted and well-intentioned, Lying Dingbat Procrastinator movies are excruciating to watch. Case in point: “People Like Us,” a film hell-bent on dragging its protagonist (and, sadly, us) through the L.D.P. narrative playbook. In it, Chris Pine plays Sam, a young, debt-crazed wheeler-dealer who heads home after the death of his father, a poisonously self-involved Los Angeles record producer. There the family lawyer (Phillip Baker Hall) hands Sam a shaving kit stuffed with $150,000 in greenbacks.
It’s not for Sam. Nope. It’s for Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), the half-sister and half-nephew Sam never knew he had. Apparently Dad was busy. But instead of introducing himself in a normal, honest manner (“Hey there, I’m your long-lost brother! Here’s a bunch of cash!”), Sam leaps right into L.D.P. mode: He stalks them, insinuates himself into their lives and befriends them. Now, Frankie is a tough chick, all fishnet and cleavage, but she’s not so tough that she can’t melt in the presence of a kind and handsome man. Which means only one thing can happen. And when it does, eeeeewwwwwww.
”People Like Us” was penned by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert and marks the directorial debut of Kurtzman, whose previous Orci collaborations have skewed toward frenetic, big-ticket sci-fi (“Star Trek,” “Cowboys & Aliens”). Going small for his first time at the helm was an admirable choice, but there’s “small” and then there’s “tiny, airless and claustrophobic.” The film plays out as a series of hushed tete-a-tetes between Sam and various partners in pain: Sam and Frankie, Sam and Josh, Sam and his aggravated girlfriend (Olivia Wilde), Sam and his discombobulated mom (Michelle Pfeiffer, the poor lass, looking more and more bedraggled in each progressive scene).
The film is prettily photographed (by “Frost/Nixon’s” Salvatore Totino), prettily edited (by Robert Leighton) and prettily outfitted with strummy guitar riffs and soft soprano humming. The stars are pretty, too: If not for the icky air of incest, Pine and Banks would make one fine-looking couple. Until now, I never had a problem watching Chris Pine do his thing, any thing, even when he played that crackpot neo-Nazi with nasty teeth in “Smokin’ Aces.” But watching him go through the motions of Lying Dingbat Procrastination — no matter how soulfully he does it — is a torturous thing indeed.
"People Like Us" is rated PG-13 and is showing at UEC Theater 12.