The people of “Peeples” make a better impression than most collections of oddballs in the weary mold of comedies centered on meeting the prospective in-laws.
They still overstay their welcome, though.
With a long, boring buildup that finally pays off with scattered laughs in the second half, “Peeples” also manages to leave a better impression than the “Tyler Perry Presents” tag on the posters might imply. This is broad comedy, but nowhere near as broad — or boorish and shrill — as producer Perry’s own family adventures (for disclosure’s sake, there are screechy relations here, but Perry’s Madea fortunately isn’t among them).
Craig Robinson moves up from caustic supporting player on “The Office” to show himself an engaging romantic lead in the chubby, lovable, gregarious Jack Black school, while Kerry Washington lightens up from heavier drama as the love of his life, a daddy’s girl whose daddy, naturally, doesn’t approve.
Screenwriter and first-time director Tina Gordon Chism (her previous scripts include “Drumline”) crafts a predictable “Meet the Parents” riff, though she fills it out with a pleasant supporting cast of kooks who, while not always interesting, at least are not off-putting.
Robinson’s Wade Walker is a children’s entertainer who somehow landed gorgeous, career-driven United Nations lawyer Grace Peeples (Washington). They’ve been together for a year, yet Grace hasn’t introduced Wade to her well-to-do family (the “chocolate Kennedys,” Wade calls them, staring at a photo of the Peeples clan looking rich and beautiful).
After Grace ducks out for an annual gathering at the family’s Long Island vacation home, Wade decides to force the issue, crashing the party intending to propose to Grace over the weekend, in the bosom of her family. Yeah, that’s a plan that’s sure to work out well for him.
From there, Chism just keeps piling up dumb decisions, silly missteps and skeletons in the Peeples family closet, all intended to wring maximum awkwardness out of the weekend.
Of course, everything Wade does puts him at odds with family patriarch Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier), a stern federal judge who thinks no man is good enough for his daughter, especially not a guy whose classroom repertoire includes a ditty about saying it, not spraying it, to discourage kids from peeing in their pants.
The others in the Peeples fold — matriarch Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson), daughter Gloria (Kali Hawk) and her best pal Meg (Kimrie Lewis-Davis), and teen son Simon (Tyler James Williams) generally take a shine to Wade. But they all have secrets, which Wade, through his outsider eyes, is able to penetrate, hindering his efforts to ingratiate himself to the family.
As if we didn’t have enough complications and inexplicable actions, Wade’s brother (Malcolm Barrett) decides to pop in on the Peeples, too. Chism already strains credibility to have Wade show up uninvited; she’s pressing her luck having his brother barge in.
Once she has the whole gang assembled and all the dominoes set up to knock down, Chism gradually makes her farce pay off here and there, the pace picking up and a few gags connecting as Wade’s weekend from hell sinks to the lower depths.
Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll drop in briefly as Virgil’s parents, he with a couple of laughs, she sadly to little use.
These all are amiable people, decent people, sometimes funny people. But unfortunately, the peeps of “Peeples” just aren’t very memorable people.
“Peeples,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language. Running time: 95 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for PG-13: Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.