In People I Know, Al Pacino plays New York publicist Eli Wurman like an exhausted man staggering around the same land of the midnight sun that Pacino traversed in ''Insomnia.'' Eli is soul-tired, and yet he keeps on moving, shaking, and schmoozing. Beholden to his most famous client, Cary Launer (Ryan O'Neal), a movie star thinking of running for office, Eli is dispatched to clean up after one of Cary's messes by bailing out an unstrung, inconveniently drug-prone model (Téa Leoni) who is a recent unsavory playmate. The errand leads Eli into an underworld of backroom parties and cabals and murder: By the nutty finale of Jon Robin Baitz's bombastic, flamboyantly theatrical script, shadowy media, entertainment, and political power brokers control the world.
I'd stay more engaged in Pacino's zany character study if I felt surer that Baitz and director Dan Algrant (''Sex and the City'') were in control of the movie's mad descent into post-''Sweet Smell of Success'' darkness and pathos; as it is, the story collapses like a bad tip to Liz Smith. Still, there's something brash, retro, and even stupidly touching about all the chatty mania, and the way Baitz and Pacino get off on paranoia, conspiracy theories, and the lure of 1960s idealism. ''People I Know'' doesn't know people, but insists that it does -- just as a good publicist should.