May 11--"Peeples" is completely unoriginal as something of a rip-off of "Meet the Parents" with an all-black cast. But that only makes it like most of what Hollywood produces.
"Meet the Parents" was completely unoriginal, too, repeating a story lifted from too many movies from the past.
But it had an engaging cast, and so does "Peeples," which is "presented" by producer Tyler Perry. But the "Madea" filmmaker is not involved in the scripting, so there's no attempt to induce laughs from the audience while including heavy-handed moralizing.
Instead, writer and first-time director Tina Gordon Chism commits to making a straight farce, and the result is as predictable as the film: Chism has created some amusingly off-kilter characters and found chemistry among her actors, but her direction is a liability.
The setup will sound familiar: Wade Walker and Grace Peeples are a cute urban couple living together, and he's ready to take things to the next level after a year. But he's never met Grace's family -- an upper-crust brood living in the Hamptons, led by an inflexible federal judge and patriarch -- and when she leaves for a family reunion weekend, he decides to crash the party and make his intentions known.
Craig Robinson ("The Office"), a supporting player in a dozen comedies in the past five years, steps up to a lead role as Wade. While Chism's inability to direct her script more crisply frames Robinson too often as flailing around aimlessly (and sight gags are all clunky), the actor has wonderful chemistry with David Alan Grier.
The "In Living Color" veteran portrays the judge who won't give Wade a chance, playing it flat-out in "Nobody's good enough for my daughter" mode, as a father who believes he knows best, but who clearly doesn't because of his domineering style.
The cliched twist is that the more mild-mannered Wade quickly discovers that every member of the family has secrets (theft, homosexuality, drug use, nudist camp participation), and that the judge could learn a few things from Wade, the mild-mannered children's musician/therapist, if he would only "judge" Wade fairly.
We know the ending from the beginning of the film, so the journey needs to be somewhat amusing. It's always more pleasant than funny, and that small accomplishment comes thanks to Robinson and supporting players like Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll as wise, witty grandparents.
Chism knows the degree to which the on-screen relationship between Robinson and Grier is working and focuses on it to the point that Kerry Washington ("Scandal," "Django Unchained"), playing Wade's girlfriend, is an afterthought in the film.
No one looks more lost in the movie than its biggest right-this-moment star.
It's as if Chism had no idea how to define Washington's character role once Wade begins interacting with the many family members he's never met before -- as soon as 15 minutes into the film -- and it is strange.
It's a rookie mistake that Chism (the writer of solid ensembles like "Drumline" and "ATL") won't likely make in her second directing attempt because it's easy to like the people she allows us to know.
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
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