The only thing more frustrating than watching a terrible comedy is watching one where one of the actors are genuinely funny in just about any other setting but not this one. And it's not like he or she isn't trying. Welcome to PEEPLES (a Tyler Perry production, although he did not write or direct), an endurance test of a film starring the great Craig Robinson. You can't have seen Robinson as one of the true breakthrough roles on "The Office" or in Hot Tub Time Machine and not realize how funny the man is. But this movie just doesn't give him anything or anyone to work with.
Robinson plays Wade Walker, a child therapist who uses music to help kids deal with some sensitive issues, like wetting the bed. His "Speak It, Don't Leak It" is sure to be a hit single this summer. He been dating Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington) for over a year; in fact, they live together. But for reasons she hasn't explained to Wade, she has kept him and her family apart the entire time they've been together, and Wade isn't happy about it. So when Grace goes on one of her many trips to the family home in the Hamptons, Wade follows her for a surprise visit. To his surprise, not only does her family not know that he and Grace live together, but the Peeples family didn't even know he existed.
Now, a normal human being in a committed relationship, upon hearing this shocking news, would simply pick up and head right back to the city. But this is a lame comedy, where people stop acting like people and start acting like they want to be in every awkward situation they can be in. The family patriarch is Judge Virgil Peeples, played by David Alan Grier, a comic actor who can be exceedingly funny, but here, he is reduced to an extended series of eye rolls, and that's pretty much it. He grimaces at Wade, he yells at Wade, he challenges Wade to various contests of skill and smarts, but none of it is really funny.
Other family members include mother Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson), nerdy brother Simon (Tyler James Williams, significantly grown up since he days on "Everybody Hates Chris"), television journalist sister Gloria (Kali Hawk), and her camera operator/secret lesbian lover Meg (Kimri Lewis-Davis). Later in the film we meet the Peeples grandparents, with jaw-dropping appearances from Diahann Carroll and the great filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, who I'm convinced was hired because he names is so close to Peeples. Either way, he's one of the few highlights of the film.
Robinson is practically breaking a sweat trying to get us to laugh at some of his clearly improvised lines, funny songs, and silly faces he breaks out when, for example, he sees Judge Peeples naked at a nudist gathering one night. But no one can cut through the ineptitude of the screenplay by director Tina Gordon Chism, the writer of DRUMLINE and ATL, two dramatic films that I actually liked. But PEEPLES is a hacked-up mess that seem to have scenes early in the film that set up jokes down the line which never materialize. But that's just one of the film's many issues.
When the scope of why Grace never talked to her family about (really it's just her father with the critical eye on her life) comes to light, again, a human being would simply withdraw from the scene and wait to talk to his girlfriend back home. But Wade forces himself into the family's life even more so by helping the younger brother with music, or advises Gloria and Meg on how best to come out to Virgil (remember, Wade is a therapist). Who are these scenes for exactly? I guess they establish that the rest of the family love Wade and that it's just Virgil with the problem. Fine, but it isn't funny or even insightful.
Robinson has two more comedies coming out this summer (THIS IS THE END and RAPTURE-PALOOZA) that appear to be much funnier and more his R-rated speed, so Peeples isn't going to destroy his career by any means. I don't think enough people will even see it for that to be a consideration. But it's painful to watch such a talented comic actor (and fellow Chicagoan) spin his wheels and go nowhere for 90-some minutes. My brain hurts just thinking about this movie again. There are simply too many better films out right now for you to even consider PEEPLES, and if you've read this review this far, I fear for your soul.