By Roger Moore
“Peeples” is an African-American “Meet the Parents” that slips funnyman Craig Robinson into the Ben Stiller role. Casting the musically minded Robinson in this formula comedy about screwing up your first encounter with your potential in-laws is like replacing Stiller’s Greg Focker with Jack Black.
Yeah, that might work. And here, formulaic or not, it’s funny.
Robinson plays Wade, an entertainer 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 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 Virgil Peeples is played by the criminally under-employed comic David Alan Grier. His patriarch is a prickly martinet who so intimidates his family of overachievers 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) is a genius and a social misfit who acts out by stealing.
Daughter Gloria (Kali Hawk) is a TV reporter who won’t tell Dad she’s in love with her camerawoman (Kimrie Lewis-Davis). And Dad has his own secrets, which Wade stumbles into as he blunders his through a domestic situation fraught with peril.
Robinson 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.
Director Tina Gordon Chism packs the film with amusing characters in awkward situations and makes the most of them.
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