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by Jay Seaver

"A mild romantic comedy that peeps rather than roars."
3 stars

Comedy is hard, folks. It must be, because look at "Peeples" - it's got a cast full of funny and talented people, a premise that's been proven fertile enough, and one would be fairly hard-pressed to find many places where it really missteps. And with all that going for it, it winds up average. Not bad, not great, just pleasant enough to be one part of an enjoyable date night.

It stars Craig Robinson as Wade Walker, a children's entertainer more interested in helping kids than making records; he's been seeing Manhattan lawyer Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington) for about a year, and he's ready to propose. He was planning to do it this weekend, but Grace has a family thing that she assures Wade would bore him. He goes anyway, though, only to find that her parents Virgil (David Alan Grier) and Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) haven't been told a thing about him, and the demanding Virgil, a federal judge, doesn't think much of Wade, although the family may tend to be blind to their own imperfections.

The "meet the parents" plot is obviously familiar - from, among other things, Meet the Parents - but it keeps getting trotted out because it works. Writer/director Tina Gordon Chism has a handle on why it works, too; there's natural tension to the situation but never so much that it becomes a melodrama rather than a comedy. Most importantly, all three of the people involved in this triangle of sorts have enough eccentricities that there's always a joke ready at hand, even before going to the high-quality supporting cast.

And this really is a top-notch ensemble supporting the big three. S. Epatha Merkerson leads it as the mother, and she's typical of the whole cast in that she's got a thing that makes the character funny - Daphne has replaced alcohol with, er, "gardening" as her addiction of choice - but not at the price of making her look the fool. Same goes for Tyler James Williams as Grace's brother Simon, and Kali Hawk as her sister Gloria. She's got a nice chemistry with Kimrie Lewis-Davis as "best friend" Meg, too. Malcolm Barrett is a certified scene-stealer as Wade's brother Chris. It's nice to be able to just throw in Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll as the grandparents, too.

The main parts need to work, of course, and there's a solid core here. Craig Robinson does both deadpan and freaking out well, and he's generally a warm presence. It's tricky to be funny and generally upbeat, but he manages it. David Alan Grier is funnier when Virgil is being eccentric than pompous, but he does odd well. And Kerry Washington may not have a lot to do, but she does at least get to play Grace as having quirks rather than just being an improbably attractive match to the everyman lead.

So the cast's nice, and along with Chism they create a group of people that's fun to spent an hour and a half with; they feel like a real family rather than a group of characters stuck together to make jokes. There's not really any point where an audience is going to feel bad. But while the movie's got a steady stream of chuckles, the big jokes don't quite feel big enough. Wade's songs about kids not wetting themselves feel like they should be a lot more flat-out bizarre, while some of the things that the plot turns on just seem almost too mundane. And while the climax is weird, it's also too forced and almost mean. Things get more upbeat after that, but it's also a little bit of a stretch after the big moment.

It could be a lot worse; many movies like this are aggressive in how they're not funny, or have an unpleasant core that "Peeples" thankfully lacks. So while everyone involved can do better, they also do alright here. It's a safe bet to have the audience come out feeling at least as good as when they came in.

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originally posted: 05/13/13 14:12:41
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  10-May-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Sep-2013


  DVD: 10-Sep-2013

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