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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Peeples

Tyler Perry Presents a Movie He Didn't Write or Direct

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: May 10, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Tina Gordon Chism
Writer: Tina Gordon Chism
Cast: Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, 
David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson, 
Tyler James Williams, Melvin Van Peebles, 
Diahann Carroll, Kali Hawk, Kimrie Lewis-Davis, 
Malcolm Barrett

"Peeples" is being marketed as a movie "presented" by Tyler Perry, which is just a fancy way of saying he didn't actually write or direct it – Tina Gordon Chism did. But Perry is credited as the producer, and his fingerprints are seemingly all over the place.

This marks the first leading role for comedic actor Craig Robinson, who was one of the highlights of the otherwise wildly inconsistent "Zack and Miri" and more than held his own in "This is the End" against James Franco, Danny McBride, and the rest of that star-studded cast. It's an opportunity he has earned and deserves. But as Robinson has shown in his own career, sometimes the supporting parts are the best ones. That's certainly the case here, too.

Wade Walker (Robinson) is in love with Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington, "Scandal"). When she takes a trip to visit her family, he surprises her by showing up at their doorstep without warning – only to find out that they have no idea who he is. Ouch!

This is a well-worn formula, used over and over (with slight variations) in countless movies through the years, because it's simple but effective – sometimes, anyway.

Grace's father, Judge Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier), is a hard man to please. He's also an intimidating one. Even though Grace is a high-priced lawyer herself, she's still afraid of Daddy.

Age has served David Alan Grier well. For the part of Judge Peeples, he has morphed into a cranky old man. It's a routine I wouldn't mind seeing him repeat in future films. He steals the show from Robinson. Like I said, sometimes the supporting roles are the best ones. In a way, it's disappointing that Robinson doesn't radiate the same room-filling charisma and dominance we've seen him from him previously. To be fair, the character of Wade calls for a meeker, more nervous portrayal. But it also has to do in part with Grier, who is just that good as the ornery judge and judgmental dad.

The Peeples clan also includes the judge's wife, Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson, "Law & Order"), who is much more friendly and mellow than her sourpuss husband – for, well, various reasons. Merkerson is delightful in the role and makes the most of it. Their other daughter, Gloria (Kali Hawk), is very close to her "friend," Meg (Kimrie Lewis-Davis).  Their youngest son, Simon (Tyler James Williams, "Everybody Hates Chris"), is a robotics genius who insists on being called "Si" because Simon is a white boy's name. He also tries to be "gangsta" in other ways. Grandpa and Nana Peeples also make an appearance (Melvin Van Peebles of "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" and "Dynasty's" Diahann Carroll lend their credibility in small supporting roles).

They're joined by Chris Walker (Malcolm Barrett), Wade's younger brother. Wade is a therapist/musician who sings silly songs about urine to kids to help them overcome their anger and fear. Chris is a doctor, but not just any kind of doctor – he's a doll doctor! Needless to say, these aren't career paths that will impress the snooty, stuffy (on the surface) Judge Peeples.

"Peeples" bounces from one vignette to another, all of which lightly thread together the main narrative of Wade getting to know the Peeples. I'm not sure whether the loose structure is refreshing or annoying. In any case, it doesn't quite work. There are a few scenes that are meant to be shocking or outrageous, but they somehow manage to feel dry and lifeless. Even Kerry Washington in a schoolgirl uniform barely elicits any excitement. Like Halle Berry as Catwoman, it sounds so much better on paper!

Stories of this type always seem to build toward a massive family fight, filled with raised voices and uncomfortable revelations. "Peeples" is no exception. But when the big "explosion" finally happens, it all feels a bit rushed and underwhelming.

The movie drags at times, but the characters are pleasant and I did find myself developing warm feelings toward each of them. Still, after seeing "The Big Wedding" so recently, I can't help but compare the two. "Wedding" features a similar setting, but with much better execution, funnier jokes, and big moments that actually pack a punch.

"Peeples" is never a bad movie, but it's not a particularly memorable one either. There are worse ways to waste a lazy Sunday afternoon, but why waste it at all?  There are far better films about families to choose from – and far better films, period. Only diehard fans of David Alan Grier need apply.

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