I suppose that I could say that Peeples is harmless — well, apart from a peculiarly adolescent view of lesbians — but I’m not sure I personally feel that charitable toward it. It did pretty much shoot the first half of my Saturday. It was a pretty tedious experience. And — I admit this is unfair to Peeples — I couldn’t keep from realizing that I could nip across the hall and make better use of my time watching The Great Gatsby again. But then again, let’s be honest — harmless it may be, but bad it most certainly is. It looks and plays like a sitcom — no matter how energetic the cast is in attempting to sell it — and it feels like it exists only as Lionsgate’s concession to keep producer Tyler Perry happy. Think of it as the single film (so far) equivalent of those Rob Schneider movies that Columbia used to let Adam Sandler bring out and you’ll get the idea. Its floperoo opening-weekend box office supports this comparison.
Much as it seemed in premise and trailers, this is basically an all-black (well, nearly) rehash of Meet the Parents — and every bit as superfluous as that sounds. Craig Robinson stars as Wade Walker (a role Ice Cube might have played 10 years ago), a wannabe child psychologist who makes a living as an unlicensed counselor (spelled kounselor to make it clear — or klear — that he’s not licensed). His specialty seems to be performing a bouncy song encouraging children not to pee on things to express disapproval (is this really a major problem?). Wade is in a relationship with Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), daughter of a very upscale family Wade calls “the chocolate Kennedys.” On the very weekend that Wade planned on proposing, Grace is off to see her family in the Hamptons for “Moby Dick Day.” (Cue the junior high school dick jokes!) Fired up by his brother, Chris (Malcolm Barrett, Larry Crowne), Wade heads off to the Hamptons to pop the question — only to discover that Grace hasn’t even mentioned his existence. Naturally, dad — Judge Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier) — takes an immediate dislike to him, while mom (S. Epatha Merkerson), a recovering (sort of) alcoholic and former disco star , is more ambivalent. And just as naturally, everything Wade does is wrong and everything he learns is unsettling. Secrets are revealed and Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll — somewhat pointlessly — show up to play Grace’s grandparents.
I don’t object to any of this on principle. I object to it because it’s all so flat and the cast’s undeniable energy seems more and more like desperation as the film drags on. The jokes are not merely transparent, they’re painfully set up and nearly every misunderstanding is of the kind that real people could sort out with a single sentence (here, of course, they’re all sitcom boobs). On the plus side, there’s one sequence where Robinson plays the guitar and S. Epatha Merkerson sings and the film really springs to life — for maybe a minute and a half. I’ll also dole out some credit to the simple — and blessed — fact that it manages to reduce the requisite rom-com penultimate gloomy reel to about a five minute blip. But all in all, I can’t recommend meeting these Peeples. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher