“Peeples” is an African American “Meet the Parents” that slips musically-minded funnyman Craig Robinson into the Ben Stiller role. A formula comedy about screwing up your first encounter with your potential in-laws, casting Robinson in it is like replacing Stiller with Jack Black among the Fockers.
Yeah, that might work. And here, formulaic or not, it’s funny.
Robinson plays Wade, an enterainer for kids who sings songs about learning to “use your words” and not pee your pants. How he ended up with stunning U.N. lawyer Grace (Kerry Washington) takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination.
Until you meet her parents. Not that she’s anxious to let Wade meet “The Chocolate Kennedys.” She does her family weekends in Sag Harbor without her live-in lover.
But Wade, egged on by his “doll doctor” brother (Malcolm Barrett, hilarious) decides to follow her to the Hamptons and surprise her, and her folks, with a proposal.
The moment he meets her father, “The Judge”, he realizes the folly of his plan. Judge Peeples is played by the criminally under-employed comic David Alan Grier. He’s a stiff, a prickly martinet who so intimidates his family of over achievers that they all lie to him rather than upset his notion of family.
Daphne, his wife (S. Epatha Merkerson in a rare comic turn) is a retired, vampy soul-singer with substance abuse issues. Young son Simon (Tyler James Williams of “Everybody Hates Chris”) is a genius and a social misfit who acts out by stealing — from everybody.
Daughter Gloria (Kali Hawk) is a TV reporter who won’t tell Dad she’s in love with her camera-woman (Kimrie Lewis-Davis). And Dad has his own secrets, which Ward stumbles into as he blunders his way into a domestic situation fraught with peril.
Robinson (“The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) is in his ease, here, surrounded by funny people so that he doesn’t have to carry the movie. But reacting to every new discovery about the Peeples, and about his girlfriend’s secret past, he’s a stitch. She dated a LOT of rich, older men in Sag Harbor. How’d he find out? In the market.
“I met Uncle Ben and Bojangles up in here. Who else did you date? George Washington Carver? W.E.B. Dubois?”
Writer-director Tina Gordon Chism earned her directing debut with pretty good scripts to “Drumline” and “ATL.” She packs this script with potentially funny characters and obvious and awkward situations and makes the most of most of them. Tyler Perry produced “Peeples,” and he could go to school on how makes things low, funny and broad, but never too low or too broad.
The laughs follow an overly familiar path, but it’s great to see Grier, one of the bright lights of the seminal TV sketch comedy “In Living Color,” button down this judge and find ways to break formula and make him hilarious.
And if these Peeples don’t make Robinson a comic leading man, they at least predict a comic franchise that Perry can produce without having to don a dress.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language
Cast: Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier
Credits: Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism . A release.
Running time: 1:35