Familiar comic crutches keep ‘Peeples’ upright
Director Tina Gordon Chism
Stars: Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington
A Tyler Perry production bereft of Tyler Perry content, “Peeples” is an unabashed ripoff of “Meet the Parents” in which Ben Stiller’s nervous Jew going up against suburban WASPs has been translated into an all-black cast with more or less the same character traits. Greg becomes amateur child entertainer/psychologist Wade Walker (Craig Robinson), a successful-enough New Yorker not in the same league as the “chocolate Kennedys” from whom girlfriend Grace (Kerry Washington) comes. These are the titular Peeples, and the movie’s simple point is that we’re all easily confused and overemotional people, even if some of us have oddly spelled names connoting higher class status.
Meanwhile, Robert De Niro’s overprotective CIA hawk becomes the less cartoonish but still implacably hostile family patriarch Virgil (David Alan Grier), a model of Hamptons affluence. Wade follows Grace to an annual family gathering, gatecrashing his way through a series of copied “Parents” blunders (setting accidental fires, being suspected of drug use through no fault of his own). The difference here is that Virgil and every family member have a secret, to be revealed and talked-out one by one.
Devoid of producer Tyler Perry’s usual admonitions about going to church and reconnecting with family as the first steps towards any reconciliation, writer/director Tina Gordon Chism keeps her aspirations modest. Predictable comic obstacles are thrown at Wade, who unfailingly causes disaster throughout the first half before going on to charm everyone save unamused dad. The climax spells out one important message, when Wade makes Grace promise to take daddy off his pedestal and look to him as the main man in her life. It’s the kind of moral Steve Harvey might include in the course of giving advice on male-female relationships. There are other lessons about tolerance and inclusiveness when gay children come out of the closet, and about not judging on appearances. For clarity’s sake, Grier recaps some of these points at the end in song.
The bulk of the film, though, is appealingly message-free, leaning comfortably on a variety of familiar comic crutches: accidental drug consumption, awkward sex witnessed by appalled parents, one man witnessing another man naked. The uniformly on-point performers pass smoothly from one familiar conflict and gag to another. Shot in workmanlike sitcom fashion, it’s inoffensive, especially in comparison with the toxic righteousness usually present in Perry’s own work.