It’s hard for one not to be cynical and merely view Peeples as an “urban” rip-off of Meet the Parents. That film, now 13 years old (yeesh), took the tired story of the nervous boyfriend meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time and spun it into gold, thanks to a talented cast playing to their strengths and bringing their A games. Even if Peeples wanted to take that approach with basically the same storyline, would the audience be as invested in Craig Robinson (The Office) and David Alan Grier (In Living Color) as they were for Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro?
Peeples revolves around Wade Walker (Robinson), an aspiring psychologist who has been dating Grace (Kerry Washington) for a year and still hasn’t met her family. When she leaves to visit the family at their house in the Hamptons, Wade decides to follow behind her and surprise everyone by asking her father, Judge Peeples (Grier), for Grace’s hand in marriage. Upon arriving, he finds that Grace has not mentioned him or their relationship. Wade spends the rest of the film attempting to gain the approval of the family, hijinks and misunderstandings be damned.
The biggest strength and flaw of the film was the casting of Robinson in the role of the hapless Wade. Robinson, despite cutting an imposing figure, has always appeared to be a lovable lunk of a guy; if you are the father of a daughter that has had multiple questionable relationships in the past, you would feel like she had finally found a nice fella to settle down with. Hence, one of the reasons the adversarial tone between Wade and the Judge seems so whackadoo. This isn’t Ben Stiller fumbling, mumbling, bumbling and stumbling all over your house; this is a dude that anyone would be happy to bring into your family.
The only way that screenwriter and first-time director Tina Gordon Chism (Drumline) can amp up the tension is by following Parents almost scene by scene. Father doesn’t take potential son-in-law’s career seriously? Check. Does the nice guy hear a conversation that he misinterprets for something much more sinister involving the dad? Of course. Is there a youngest child going wild unbeknownst to his parents? Mmm-hmm. Is there a final fight between everyone involved where the daughter will side with her father’s wild allegations, despite being the only one there to actually know the suitor long enough to have a reasonable suspicion that he may be a thief or drug addict? Well now you’re just taking all of the fun out of this.
Much could, and probably will, be said about the fact that the only true innovation that the film has going for it is its predominantly black cast. Honestly, the film doesn’t even touch on that concept more than a couple of times, like when Wade addresses a family picture as the “chocolate Kennedys”. Why does no one in the film ask what it’s like to be one of the few black families in the lily white Hamptons? When a subplot is introduced over a family member hiding her homosexuality, why isn’t her reasoning behind that thought process explored? One of the many scenes involving bicycle riding could have been excised to give one of these more serious concepts room to grow, but Chism chose to go the more lackadaisical route.Peeples, despite advertising producer Tyler Perry’s name all over the advertising, isn’t the worst thing you will see this year in theaters. No one is involved in a highly unlikely abusive relationship, and an AIDS scare isn’t shoehorned in at the last minute for a ham-fisted moral. All in all, it isn’t really bad as much as forgettable, and I mean that literally; I could definitely see members of the audience running across this on TBS a couple of years from now and trying to remember if they have seen this film or not. No, in the end the film is simply buried beneath comparisons to its earlier, better inspiration, talented case be damned.