In the Tyler Perry-produced Peeples, Craig Robinson displays some of the same comedic appeal that he’s showed on The Office. But save for just a few of Robinson’s scenes, Peeples is a dismal comedy that rushes incompetently through its thin jokes and a premise that should give some couples pause before scheduling this for date night.
Robinson stars as Wade Walker, a schlub of questionable talent and aspiration who has somehow managed to endear himself to a hot lawyer named Grace Peeples, played by Kerry Washington. (The two are sharing a Manhattan apartment when Peeples opens; it’s up to your imagination to figure out how their paths could have possibly crossed – love in the frozen food aisle, perhaps?) Before we can get settled in, Grace is off to see her parents in the Hamptons, insisting that Wade would be uncomfortable if he joined her. The admonition turns out to be more prescient that perhaps even she might have imagined.
Grace has no sooner boarded the Hampton Jitney than the self-pitying Wade takes the advice of his goofball friend Chris and makes the senseless decision to follow uninvited. Her father's icy welcome turns colder once he discovers that Wade is his daughter's boyfriend, a fact Grace initially tries to hide when she, horrified at Wade’s arrival, introduces him as her friend. Yuck. (We're to believe that she maintains a close relationship with her family, and yet somehow has kept her family from discovering she’s been living with a boyfriend.)
Peeples is patterned after Meet the Parents — mom and siblings take to the fish-out-of-water boyfriend, while the snobbish patriarch, Virgil (David Alan Grier, sporting a close-cropped white beard), is openly hostile and unwilling to accept him into the fold. Where Ben Stiller’s Focker was a nurse; Robinson plays a children’s entertainer who sings songs about the virtues of not peeing on your parents.
Washington (TV’s Scandal) has nothing to do here but look cute and demean herself role-playing as a naughty schoolgirl during a scene that exists so Virgil can look on in parental dismay through the curtains as Wade spanks his daughter’s ass. Washington is trying to play the man-pleasing girly girl and she can’t. And shouldn’t. Grace comes across as deluded, someone whose issues about her relationship with Wade run so deep, she's been too embarrassed to let her own parents meet him. Not for a moment are these two a believable couple, and it’s impossible to conceive that they could be anything more than friends, such is the lack of heat between them. Even viewed within the context of the neutered rom-com genre, the sexless vibe is uncomfortable.
Like Meet the Parents, Peeples reaches desperately for laughs, mistaking outrageous, off-the-wall behavior for comedy. With that guiding principle, it piles on the absurdity, bringing Wade’s hopelessly dorky friend Chris to the Hamptons so he can leer after Grace’s gay sister and Virgil can mistake him as a fellow alumnus (as if). But nothing — neither the characters nor the situations — registers as remotely recognizable with regard to how the humans we know act. Instead, we get gobsmackingly stupid superstitions, a nocturnal skinny-dipping crew led by the mayor, and “Moby Dick Day,” which follows in the tradition of movie holidays designed for rich people with too much time on their hands. The best writer and director Tina Gordon Chism can do is have Wade unwittingly consume hallucinogenic mushrooms (intended for the recovering alcoholic mom!) so he can make an ass of himself while Virgil reads from Melville’s book. Wade spies Grace’s brother recording a creepy YouTube video, and nothing comes of it. Just as quickly as Chism sends Wade off the island with his tail between his legs, she constructs a single, fleeting scene where the Peeples clan resolves every plot thread and Virgil comes to accept Wade as a pretty good guy after all. His character is just meh, but Robinson is occasionally very funny, particularly when he confronts Grace about the age of her past boyfriends. But moments like that are small oases separated by long stretches of tedium.