THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Peeples comes bearing the label “Tyler Perry Presents” - he was a producer on the film – although it only bears a minimal resemblance to his own work. There's plenty of broad humor, but no melodrama and none of the sermonizing that are commonplace in his productions. (For the record, that's not an insult; I've enjoyed several of Perry's movies.) Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism (Drumline), Peeples is actually a ripoff of Meet the Parents, only less funny. Much, much less funny.
Craig Robinson stars as Wade Walker, a guy who makes his living writing songs that teach kids not to pee on things when they're upset. (I've made that sound terrible. The way it plays out in the opening scene is actually one of the few things that made me laugh.) Wade is planning to propose to his girlfriend, Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), just as she announces her intention to spend a weekend with her wealthy family – without him. Wade decides crash the gathering, only to be confronted by Grace's tough-as-nails father, a federal judge named Virgil (David Alan Grier). It turns out that Grace never told her family about Wade. With the cat out of the bag, Wade does everything he can to earn Virgil's approval; unfortunately, he can do no right in the man's eyes.
Peeples is a lousy movie, marginally elevated by engaging performers. Craig Robinson is a really talented comic actor, and it's nice to see him get a lead role. He does what he can with essentially flawed material. Same goes for Kerry Washington, who is always an energetic presence onscreen. She almost makes you forget that Grace is a one-note character. David Alan Grier, meanwhile, nicely underplays the perpetually disapproving parent. They're all good, as is S. Epatha Merkerson, who portrays Grace's secret-keeping, former pop star mother.
The actors deserve none of the blame here. No, the failure of Peeples rests solely with Tina Gordon Chism, whose screenplay often feels machine-manufactured. Because everything Wade does is wrong, the movie ends up telegraphing its jokes from a mile away. Here's just one example: The Peeples family decides to go for a bike ride. Wade warns them that it looks as though it might rain. Virgil gets angry at him for saying that. Grace and her siblings warn him that the family never says “it's going to rain” because they view it as a jinx. Wade retracts what he said about the weather. I am certain you can accurately predict how this set-up will pay off. Peeples is one bit like that after another, strung together for ninety-five minutes. Meet the Parents put Ben Stiller in a similar predicament, but it found ways to surprise you with the punchlines. You may have known that urn would get knocked off the mantle, for instance, but you didn't know when or how. Everything in Peeples hits exactly the way you expect it to, at precisely the moment you anticipate it. Also predictable is the manner in which every character's mini-problem gets resolved through Wade's unintended influence.
A bigger problem – for me, at least – has to do with the Grace character. (This may constitute a minor spoiler, so be warned.) She supposedly loves Wade and wants to be with him, yet she continually sides with her father. It's almost as though once in Virgil's presence, she no longer recognizes her boyfriend's positive qualities. During the last act, Grace does something that's tantamount to betraying Wade. I wanted to yell at him to dump her, but of course Peeples needs to trot out an age-old romantic-comedy cliché in its final minutes. I simply wasn't buying it. Despite what Virgil thinks, it's Wade who's too good for Grace, not the other way around. It is maddening that the movie doesn't acknowledge this.
A few chuckles and some likeable actors aside, there's nothing worthwhile about Peeples. This is a lazy comedy, one content to recycle ideas done much more humorously in other films. Craig Robinson deserves better. So do Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, and everyone else who stands before the camera in this clunker.
( 1/2 out of four)
Peeples is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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