Despite mimicking Meet the Parents’ character types and conflicts down to a male lead whose name rhymes with Ben Stiller’s Gay Focker, Peeples forgets to copy its forebear’s sense of humor. Unintentionally more tragic than comedic, Tina Gordon Chism’s film centers on Wade Walker (Craig Robinson), a New York musician whose songs encourage kids not to wet their pants nor other non-toilet objects. (Apparently territory-marking is a problem for today’s youth.) After a soulful rendition of his chart-topper “Say It (Don’t Spray It),” we get a scene of Wade and his live-in girlfriend Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), conveniently addressed by her full name, that robotically lays out the film’s characters and premise down to Wade’s looming proposal. The tell-all mapping, however, turns out to be misleading as the subsequent events indicate little proof of actual planning.
Following a dopey “be a man” pep talk from his doll repairman brother Chris (Malcolm Barrett), Wade takes the Hampton Jitney out to Sag Harbor, arriving at the Peeples’ lavish home to surprises all around. Once there, Chism expects the audience to believe that Grace not only hasn’t told her parents about living with Wade, but that after a year of dating she hasn’t once mentioned his existence. That Wade isn’t all that perturbed at this news nor the other damning discoveries that are revealed over the disastrous weekend is equally bizarre, though if he’s attracted that level of deception and lack of trust, perhaps these two emotionally immature adults are meant to be together.
While Peeples intends for Grace’s shocking personal details and Wade’s clashes with her father Virgil (David Alan Grier) to be the stuff of grand comedy, the clumsiness of its execution instead reveals a sad, repressed family who stick together out of sheer desperation. Stranger still is that the source of their rigidity remains unknown and seems especially false upon meeting Virgil’s chilled out father (Melvin Van Peebles).
Nestled between sophomoric sex and drug jokes that don’t come close to working, this rampant lack of definition negates some nice moments between Wade and Grace’s mom Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson), a former R&B songstress out of whom the fellow musician coaxes a spirited revival. A pleasant, stubborn fellow, mostly worth rooting for, Wade likewise works his charms on Simon (Tyler James Williams), the family’s awkward genius teen who perks up when Wade affectionately calls him “Sy.” Yet as if these minor, heartfelt gains were accidental, Chism’s insistence that Wade make a fool of himself regardless of whether the antics fit into the overall story prevents the genuine moments from gaining some much-needed traction.
With results this bad, it’s easy to point fingers and criticize Robinson as incapable of carrying a film. Consistently great as a supporting player in films like Hot Tub Time Machine and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the actor best known as Darryl in TV’s The Office simply isn’t given the material to fairly test his leading man potential. In Peeples’ fantasy world where anything goes and both confrontations and revelations come out of nowhere, it’s hopeless for a gifted comedian to make his mark. Not even Bernie Focker would give this sad and confused film a participation award.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language.
Peeples is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.