Dave's Rating:


Rigging the crying game.

Generic title, so some explanation is in order: Sam (Chris Pine) returns home to Los Angeles, concerned girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) in tow, to settle his late father's estate. Sam's been estranged from both his father and mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) for years, so when he discovers that a $150,000 bag of mystery cash has been left behind with a note instructing him to deliver it and take care of the recipients, he embarks on an angry, information-withholding journey with the sister (Elizabeth Banks) and nephew (Michael Hall D'Addario) he never knew he had. Think Secrets and Lies, processed through a mainstream Hollywood filter, the kind that makes post-production people wish there were really such a thing as a digital audience-tears-extraction button they could push to make everyone's life easier.

But there's not. Yet. And Hollywood isn't really in the business of making intimate human dramas anymore, so this obviously personal labor of love from screenwriter/director Alex Kurtzman is handicapped by the privileged environment that grew it. Kurtzman has built a career writing genre TV like Fringe and Alias and deep-pockets screenplays like Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Cowboys & Aliens, Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek, so this smaller budget project, one with nakedly emotional themes of abandonment and forgiveness, probably feels like an indie to him and everyone else involved in its production, except that it comes from Disney's Touchstone arm and will wind up on about 2,000 screens for opening weekend.

So imagine a small-scale family drama that moves like an action-suspense thriller, where the third act reveal is the one the script is keeping secret from one of its main characters instead of you. Your job, then, becomes patience. You wait and wait and wait for Chris Pine to drop the bomb that will finally set in motion all the family confrontations the movie's been stalling for a hundred minutes. And while you wait, a maddening sense of disconnection rises inside you and you realize that you're watching a slightly less generic than usual TV movie with a better than average cast (Banks, in particular, deserves a better platform than this for her performance as a downtrodden single mom). All the narrative beats click in a kind of mechanical lockstep, all the rough edges are sanded down.

Given even less money to work with and lower box-office stakes, there's a chance that a tougher-minded, stronger-willed, messier version of life might have emerged. but as it is you keep expecting it to pause to make room for a Stouffer's Frozen Lasagna commercial. And when the heightened emotions kick in for the big-hugs finale, they feel like a trick that Stepmom played on you when you weren't looking. You might shed a tear, too, but you'll know the movie didn't earn it.


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