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2013 | 95 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 10 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Peeples Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 10, 2013

The marketing for “Peeples” has been stamped silly with the Tyler Perry brand name, though he only has a vague producer presence here, not a primary creative role. Actually, it’s probably a mistake to have Mr. Madea’s name anywhere near the picture, as Perry’s core fanbase will be expecting something volcanic from a movie that just wants to relax and have a little harmless fun. It’s more Huxtables than hysterical. That’s not to suggest “Peeples” is an especially good film, but when it finds its silly stride, there’s some amusement to be had, providing a few scattered laughs. Its even-tempered atmosphere of mischief is perfectly alien to Perry’s bazooka approach, so be warned acolytes, this feature isn’t going to scratch that pan-wielding melodrama itch.

An aspiring musical therapist for children, Wade (Craig Robinson) is hopelessly in love with Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), with the duo building a life together. Traveling to see her family at Sag Harbor to celebrate Moby Dick Day, Grace hasn’t informed her stern father, Judge Peeples (David Alan Grier), or her family about her relationship. Hoping to surprise his girlfriend with a marriage proposal, Wade secretly visits the Peeples compound, finding himself an object of suspicion as Judge pieces together the situation. Dealing with Grace’s addictive mother Daphne (E. Epatha Merkerson), half-out-of-the-closet lesbian sister Gloria (Kali Hawk), and culturally repressed teen brother Simon (Tyler James Williams), Wade struggles to adapt to the family’s aura of sophistication, learning some embarrassing secrets along the way. As the weekend expires, Wade waits for the perfect moment to present his ring, only to find his good name sullied by Judge’s disapproval and his brother Chris’s (Malcolm Barrett) unannounced arrival.

Screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism (“Drumline,” “ATL”) makes her directorial debut with “Peeples,” and she’s played it awfully safe to survive the traumatic experience, essentially reworking the 2000 Ben Stiller comedy, “Meet the Parents,” using its highlights of domestic discomfort and misunderstandings to fuel another go-around of generation-rubbing slapstick. Although derivative, perhaps the picture’s greatest asset is how colorblind it remains. Outside of a moronic incident between Wade and a racist old woman at a local grocery store, “Peeples” is reminiscent of “The Cosby Show” in the way it features an African-American cast, yet doesn’t remind the audience of skin color, permitting personalities and comedic situations to guide the experience. It’s a noble effort, especially with Perry’s raincloud reputation threatening to dampen the merriment, keeping the focus on the familiar situation at hand, treating the Peeples like any other family with persistent dysfunctions.

What’s truly being tested in “Peeples” is Chism’s imagination as she figures out ways to crush Wade’s hopes for a catastrophe-free weekend in luxury. It helps to have such charismatic actors as Robinson, Grier, and Merkerson around, who know how to squeeze a moment for a laugh, and the cast does an adequate job selling Chism’s mediocrity, most of which doesn’t rise above a sitcom-level sense of humor. We witness Wade’s horror as he stumbles on the Judge’s late-night preference for nudism with the town mayor (Ana Gasteyer), his disbelief when he finds out just how many exes Grace has burned through, and his failure to win over his future father-in-law when a showdown inside a sweat lodge ends up burning down the entire teepee. There’s also a particularly painful subplot featuring Gloria trying to settle on a sexual preference, calling on Chris’s clumsy heterosexuality to test her lesbian resolve -- a deadly tangent that confuses the movie’s director, keeping Chism unsure if she wants to focus on random bits or a secure storyline with an appealing lead character.

There are plenty of clunkers in “Peeples” to let the air out of its tires, but a few chuckles are found, and there’s some playfulness in the casting, bringing in Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll to portray Grace’s grandparents. Unfortunately, Chism doesn’t stray far from formula, with refreshing idiosyncratic moments few and far between, separated by predictable storytelling beats and stiff execution. “Peeples” has promise and a few talented comedians in its cast to make the material ring bells of hilarity, yet it’s burdened by a filmmaker who’s not seasoned enough to ride waves of absurdity, keeping the production on an impossibly short leash.

Starring: Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, Tuffy Questell, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson, Melvin Van Peebles
Director: Tina Gordon Chism

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