In "People Like Us," a slick corporate salesman, Sam (Chris Pine), flies to Los Angeles for the funeral of his estranged father and receives shocking news: He has a half-sister. Her name is Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and Sam wants to meet her. He's afraid, however, to reveal his true identity.
Sam's solution? He starts dating her.
Surely a heartwarming family drama could double as a love story without resorting to borderline incest, but that's the weird solution "People Like Us" has hit upon. Pine and Banks are such an attractive couple -- Sam is a blue-eyed charmer, Frankie is damaged goods in a hiked-up skirt -- that it's easy to see why the movie wants to pair them up. The minute Sam's girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) flies back home, Sam poses as a newcomer to Frankie's AA group, then uses his excellent taste in rock bands to win over her surly 11-year-old, Josh (Hicksville's Michael Hall D'Addario). As Sam and Frankie banter and bask in each other like movie lovers -- mostly at arm's length -- the film seems barely aware of the queasy possibilities hovering around their courtship.
If it weren't for the whole shared-DNA problem, "People Like Us" might have made a nice pot of romantic mush. First-time director Alex Kurtzman clearly cares about these characters (he's one of three screenwriters) and he gets nice performances from Banks as a dukes-up single mom and from D'Addario as a good kid teetering on juvenile delinquency. One advantage of the overstuffed script is that bit players like Jon Favreau, as Sam's nasty boss, and Michelle Pfeiffer, as Sam's mother, Lillian, get enough room to shine.
Then there's that scene of Sam daubing on his late father's patchouli oil, which sends Lillian into a swoon. "God," she moans, "that used to turn me on." Uh-oh.
PLOT After the death of his father, a young man meets the half-sister he never knew. RATING PG-13 (language, adult themes, brief sexuality)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE What happens when a family drama doubles as a love story? Apparently, borderline sibling incest. Misguided, to say the least.
(language, adult themes, brief sexuality)