Tina Gordon Chism covers familiar territory here in her directorial debut: Peeples is Meet the Parents by way of Tyler Perry. Chism, who wrote the screenplays for Drumline and ATL, has Perry’s help as co-producer, but it’s not enough.
Craig Robinson, a standout actor on The Office who has been lovably hilarious in a handful of small parts on the big screen, including Pineapple Express and Hot Tub Time Machine, gets his shot at a star role and to clash comedically with David Alan Grier. It’s a shame that two gifted comedians weren’t given better material to work with.
Robinson plays Wade Walker, who dreams of being a child psychologist but for now pays the bills by singing songs to kids about how not to pee their pants. When his girlfriend, Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), leaves him behind to go to a family reunion despite the fact that Wade has asked to finally meet the Peeples clan (whom he calls the “chocolate Kennedys”), Wade decides to just show up and ask for Grace’s hand in marriage.
Things will go smoothly, right? Or not. Grace’s father (Grier), a judge who insists on being called that instead of his name, takes an instant dislike to Wade, who fails repeatedly to win him over. The rest of the family is so afraid of Judge and his high standards that they hide their secrets from him: the son with sticky fingers, the daughter who is gay, a wife who does ’shrooms. There’s also a weak subplot involving Judge and the town’s mayor that’s meant to show he’s not who he pretends to be either. The problem isn’t that the film’s minor conflicts and secrets are preposterous; it’s that they’re not preposterous enough. Unlike Meet the Parents director Jay Roach, Chism doesn’t know when to step on the gas and just go for belly laughs.
In this type of movie – the “guy trying to woo a girl and his family” type – supporting players need to provide the best laughs and surprises. Like Isla Fisher’s kooky-sister role in Wedding Crashers. Malcolm Barrett puts in a decent comic turn as Wade’s brother, but that and Grier’s scowling can’t hide the fact that the rest of the group are just there to move the plot along.
The bigger problem is that right from the start, it’s clear that when the weekend is over, all secrets will be revealed, all rifts will be healed, the Judge will see the error of his ways and Wade will be welcomed as part of the family amid all the easy moralizing. What you probably don’t see coming is the family sing-along at the end. Sorry to ruin one of the few things in the movie that isn’t predictable – but it might make you cringe less when it happens.
And don’t hold your breath for the scene in which Wade gets his seventies intergalactic groove on. It’s a long story – and that’s never a good thing for a comedy that’s only 95 minutes long.