‘Peebles’ is pretty funny and utterly harmless

By Gary Clift

Somehow Tyler Perry has gotten his name put onto the new film “Peebles.” He is credited as a producer, but it is difficult to imagine that he had much say in the making of this amusing little comedy. The jokes aren’t as broad as what one expects from the writer-director-female impersonator. The movie looks too good. And the pot-boiling story makes too much sense.

It might be more use to say that “Peebles” is a star vehicle for the likable Craig Robinson. But he apparently doesn’t have the sort of ego to dominate the movie in the way Adam Sandler, for example, usually does his films.

So ultimately we’re forced to credit the writer and director of the movie, Tina Gordon Chism, for its various attractions, among them good casting and a consistent light tone. Chism has written widely-distributed features before, including “Drumline” and “ATL.” But this is her first movie as a director.

“Peebles” is a date comedy. NYC musician Wade (Robinson) has got his life going right. He has a job writing and performing songs encouraging minimum decorum from elementary school children. The example we see urges them not to urinate indiscriminately, and this is the one bit in the show that’s nearly tasteless enough for a standard twenty-first century Blacksploitation comedy.

Wade also has fallen in love with Grace (Kerry Washington). But before he can ask her to marry him, she slips off home to Sag Harbor. Her family, headed by a federal judge (David Alan Greer), always gathers at the beach house for the annual Moby Dick Festival.

Grace hasn’t invited Wade to join them. In fact, she hasn’t introduced him to her family. Wade’s pal and doll doctor Chris thinks this is suspicious. He convinces our hero to crash the party and to propose while he’s there.

Wade, it turns out, is the only character in the film who isn’t hiding something. These secrets cause problems that are resolved late. The resolution, which is really just a scene in which all is revealed to everybody, isn’t as funny as it could have been. Otherwise the script is consistently amusing.

Grace’s secrets include her relationship with Wade. Her father disapproves and is ready to believe anything bad about the beau. Her mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) is a former drunk and a forgotten pop singer, though Wade knows her hit and encourages her to sing it.

Teen brother Simon (Tyler James Williams, imitating Orlando Jones) is searching for an identity that will help his romantic life. He steals his mother’s diamond ear-rings so he can wear one to a bar. Wade gets blamed for the jewelry’s disappearance, partly because the judge has earlier seen him wearing the headpiece from Grace’s mother’s pop-music stage get-up. “Do you enjoy wearing women’s clothes?” he asks the abashed Wade.

But Wade doesn’t immediately get the judge back by noting that his honor has lied about playing jazz on Friday nights at a local bar. Instead his honor is off skinny-dipping with some other adults—”swimming with the hump backs,” he calls it. Wade tells Chris he has seen the older man nude and can’t forget the frightening image.

Chris shows up to support Wade and immediately falls into a couple of unintentional prevarications of his own. The Peebles jump to the conclusion that he is a real doctor and, because of a sweatshirt he wears, that he is a member of the judge’s old college fraternity.

And then Grace’s sister (Kali Hawk) hasn’t yet told the folks, or confirmed to herself, that she is actually a lesbian. She invites Chris to help her with the confirmation.

Greer and Robinson and, really, the whole cast are good company. The script has its share of memorably wry lines (“We are Timex people” is my favorite). And the Moby Dick business gives the story a secondary line of ridiculous detail that helps maintain the tone.

In short, “Peebles” is pretty funny and utterly harmless. And it is so well-made I had to wonder what Tyler Perry had to do with it.

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