'Peeples': Not fun for the family
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
For her directorial debut, "Drumline" and "ATL" screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism is lucky enough to have the backing of producer Tyler Perry, a name brand in modern filmmaking if there is one, but even Perry's copious fan base will likely prove disappointed by "Peeples." Chism's uninspired effort at a family-friendly romantic comedy centers on the ill-fated attempts of regular guy Wade Walker (Craig Robinson) to secure the approval of his girlfriend's (Kerry Washington) family during a disastrous family weekend. The eponymous Peeples are an unquestionably classy bunch (at one point, they're referred to as "the chocolate Kennedys") and Wade's desire to marry her doesn't quite fit into their seemingly picture-perfect life. This, of course, doesn't mean that Wade won't try to change that.
Despite his very clear desire to impress the Peeples family, a small push from his brother Chris (Malcolm Barrett, who turns a second-string role into MVP territory with his excellent comedic timing) sends Wade out to the Peeples' lavish family home, and the hapless hero shows up both uninvited and unannounced to an annual family weekend. While there's no doubt that initial introductions won't go well, Wade is relentlessly humiliated almost immediately, enduring the one-two punch of being humped by the family dog on the sprawling back lawn and discovering that Grace has never so much as mentioned his existence to her family (especially her high-strung dad, played by David Alan Grier). Though the overall tone of "Peeples" is surely meant to feel fluffy and fun, Grace's duplicitous nature is off-putting, with the unfortunate consequence of making the object of Wade's affection come off as nothing but a disingenuous liar (not a good look for the lead of any romantic comedy).
Yet Wade's intentions won't be swayed, and the rest of "Peeples" aims to amusingly present his attempts to charm the Peeples family, prove that he's worthy of Grace and not lose his mind in the process. Staying sane isn't easy, however, as the central gag of "Peeples" isn't that Wade is aiming high above his metaphorical pay grade; it's that the rest of the Peeples family is certifiably cuckoo, and the ring hidden in Wade's pocket is just one small secret that's destined to be outed during the world's worst family weekend.
For most of its runtime, "Peeples" simply feels cribbed from other (and better) films about ill-fated family meetings (the film is most easily described as a mix of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and the Cleary family visit sequence in "Wedding Crashers"), but Chism occasionally verges into interesting territory that hints at some of the heart and humor a more finished product and more accomplished filmmaker could deliver. Robinson is particularly outstanding in an otherwise weird fantasy sequence that sees him re-enacting Mama Daphne Peeples' (S. Epatha Merkerson) former career as a sultry pop singer, and an ongoing plot point that involves Wade off-handedly giving Grace's little brother (Tyler James Williams) a nickname is both charming and very funny.
The entire cast of "Peeples" is really quite amusing, but the cliché-laden script and weak direction barely allow anyone to breathe, and most jokes suffocate before they're able to appropriately amuse. Chism seems intent on stuffing her film with all manner of genre tropes and expected situations, and the result is a production without identity, emotional stakes, or even just one big genuine laugh, making "Peeples" a romantic comedy that's neither of those things (and probably not so fun for any family).
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in New York City.