People I Know

Aside from a characteristically fine performance by Al Pacino, the misshapen “People I Know” is not especially worth knowing. In fact, it barely seems to know itself.

Pacino plays Eli Wurman, an aging New York publicist with a dwindling client list. Eli, a Georgia transplant, is of the old school (he refuses to get a cell phone), from the days when a press agent’s main job was to get his clients mentioned on the Page Six gossip column of the New York Post. Today, he’s down to one major client, big-shot movie star Cary Launer (Ryan O’Neal), whose opium den activities with a TV starlet (Tea Leoni) lead to trouble.

They lead to trouble with the film, too, as the tone begins shifting haphazardly back and forth between character dramedy and whodunit skulduggery. It is the latter that gets the short shrift; as a result, every scene devoted to those matters seems out of place.

Written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Daniel Algrant, the film ought to have stayed with Eli Wurman, a man who is good at heart but who is exhausted from his decades of cleaning up people’s messes. Pacino plays him close to his character in “Insomnia”: bedraggled, weary and in dire need of a break. More on his slow realization of his own obsolescence would have been welcome, for there is potential for fine drama (and comedy) in that.

The film is not without its charms, though. Kim Basinger gets a few nice moments as Eli’s sister-in-law, and Mark Webber is a breath of levity as Eli’s perpetually harried assistant. And frankly, it is always a treat to watch Pacino be fantastic, even when the movie isn’t.

C+ (1 hr., 34 min.; R, frequent harsh profanity, some nudity and sexuality, some drug use, a little violence.)