With Peeples, comedian Craig Robinson of The Office joins the list of likeable, chunky movie guys who inexplicably get hot significant others (in this case, Kerry Washington of Scandal). He plays Wade Walker, an unlicensed sort of therapist who teaches kids through song (one of his recent compositions, aimed at getting kids to stop wetting their pants, involves the phrase “Speak it, don’t leak it”).
Wade lives with Grace Peeples (Washington), an attorney from a wealthy family he calls “the chocolate Kennedys,” none of whom he’s ever been allowed to meet. Grace decides to visit them in Sag Harbor for Moby-Dick Day — talk amongst yourselves, and I’m sure you can come up with any number of jokes on that inviting subject — but refuses to invite Wade.
After a pep talk from his doll doctor brother (the funny Malcolm Barrett), Wade decides to surprise her in Sag Harbor, engagement ring tucked into his pocket and a proposal hovering on his lips. But he is blocked every step of the way by Grace’s uptight retired judge father (David Alan Grier).
As you might imagine, Peeples is basically a meet-the-parents-and-their-rigid-disapproval comedy, with a bit of fish-out-of-water humor tossed in, and while it never quite makes the leap from pleasantly amusing to absolutely hilarious, its heart is in the right place. After years as a terrific deadpan ensemble player on The Office, Robinson turns out to be a solid leading man. Helping shoulder the comedic load are Barrett, especially in a scene in which he tries to pass himself off as a fraternity brother, and young Tyler James Williams (the title character from the terrific family sitcom Everybody Hates Chris) as Grace’s younger, thug life wannabe brother who can’t quite rack up any street cred with a name like Simon.
Peeples is the first film for director Tina Chism Gordon, who also wrote the screenplay (she also wrote scripts for ATL and Drumline), and sometimes her inexperience shows in the choppy pacing and transitions. There’s also an unlikely subplot about Grace’s worldly sister in which she wonders whether she is gay — even though the sister brought her girlfriend to the gathering. (Survey says: Yes. You’re gay.) But as family comedies go, Peeples has more things going for it than against it.
Cast: Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, Malcolm Barrett, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tyler James Williams, Melvin van Peebles, Diahann Carol.
Writer/director: Tina Gordon Chism.
Producers: Stephanie Allain, Ozzie Areu, Paul Hall, Matt Moore, Tyler Perry.
A Lionsgate release. Running time: 95 minutes. sexual content, drug material and language. Playing at: area theaters.