5/16/2013 - Craig Robinson tries to win over his would-be fiancee’s dad in the well-trod-ground comedy that is Peeples.
Wade Walker (Robinson) is a children’s entertainer (his most recent song is about why you shouldn’t pee on people to show you’re mad) who has been carrying around his grandmother’s ring, waiting for the right time to propose to his live-in girlfriend, Grace (Kerry Washington). When she heads to Sag Harbor to visit her family for the weekend, he decides to follow her and propose there. He’s never met Grace’s parents, and when he gets there it becomes clear that they have never even heard of him.
Grace’s mother, Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson), warms to Wade fairly quickly, in part because she also used to be a singer. But Grace’s father, a federal judge named Virgil (David Alan Grier), is not impressed.
While Wade tries, and consistently fails, to win over the difficult Virgil, he learns that the perfect Peeples family is not what it seems. Grace’s sister, Gloria (Kali Hawk), also has a relationship she’s afraid to tell her parents about. Grace’s teenage brother, Simon (Tyler James Williams), steals to pay for accessories that he thinks make him appear bad-ass. Daphne may have stopped drinking but she isn’t exactly sober, and Virgil himself has found a stress-relieving activity that doesn’t exactly fit with his buttoned-up persona.
Tyler Perry has a producer credit on Peeples and in some places the title is listed as “Tyler Perry Presents Peeples,” but Perry’s doesn’t appear to be the creative vision in charge here. Peeples has a much lighter touch than his usual fare — no heavy-handed lessons, no cringe-inducing comedy. Here, the goofiness is much more of a mid-level sitcom variety and the movie does put some effort into making at least central characters Wade, Grace and Virgil seem human-like despite their wackiness.
That said, “not really a Tyler Perry movie” is probably the most complimentary thing I can say about Peeples. It takes a very familiar story — the uptight dad who doesn’t like his daughter’s boyfriend — and does nothing new or interesting with it. The jokes are predictable and all go on a few beats too long. A scene where Wade sees Simon recording himself dancing and singing is silly and kind of cute but twice as long as it needs to be.
I can’t tell if the movie doesn’t have faith in its jokes or in its audience, but it could have sliced out all the repetition and made room for something smarter. Because for all that the movie does set up a class imbalance (Wade calls the Peeples the “chocolate Kennedys”), it doesn’t really do anything with that. I don’t need the movie to be a grad school dissertation on socioeconomic differences, but a strain of that could have given the movie some heft.
What keeps Peeples from complete disintegration into hacky-comedy goo is its mostly strong cast. It’s fun to see Lt. Van Buren (Merkerson) be goofy, and Robinson, even when he’s not throwing deadpan looks at the camera as in The Office, is able to funny up even the mediocre material he’s given here.
Williams, who is probably best known for his role as Chris Rock’s stand-in on Everybody Hates Chris, has a fairly limited role here but he also brings more to it than I suspect existed on the page. Williams is a solid comic performer — nobody watched the recently canceled Go On but he did a good job of playing a smart and funny but depressed teen grieving for a comatose brother. (Some day when you are looking for low-impact entertainment, you could do worse than a few episodes of that sitcom about a grief support group filled with wacky — but not aggressively so — characters.)
In a season of big, broad movie extravaganzas — for action, yes, but also in comedy — Peeples seems to shoot for satisfactory but comes up just a little short. C-
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language. Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism, Peeples is an hour and 35 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate.